Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Blurry Line

The dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are well documented. Every pregnancy pamphlet, book, and website will warn the expecting mom that alcohol can cause birth defects. The Surgeon General has even spoken up about the danger of drinking alcohol on an unborn fetus and put his warning on the back of my cheap bottle of 2007 California Red. The common wisdom is that there is no way to know how much booze is too much booze for an unborn baby and Mom's best defense against fetal alcohol syndrome is to just avoid the stuff all together. Some mommies (like me), chose to live on the edge during our pregnancies and indulge in the occasional glass of wine during dinner. I suppose knowing when to say when when you are 40 pounds overweight becomes a little easier. The temptation to have just one more drink and stay out late dancing just wasn't as strong when I'd been constipated for 4 days.

The clearly defined line in the sand becomes a bit windblown when you are talking about the rules for alcohol consumption and breastfeeding. Somehow, the"pump and dump" method became the accepted method for a breast feeding mom who wanted to drink. I guess if I wanted to go on an 8 hour bender and get really shitfaced, I might need to express milk at some point in time just so I didn't get too engorged. Breast milk, like blood, does not hold on to alcohol indefinitely when a mom drinks. About an hour after a drink is consumed, the alcohol content in blood and milk is at it's peak. As her blood alcohol level falls, so does the amount of alcohol in her breast milk. So if I have a glass of wine before bed and fall asleep without pumping, my milk will not have alcohol in it the next morning as my body processed my wine while I slept. There is no need for me to rid my body of any alcohol laced milk, my liver will do that job for my whole body.

Since Violet is still nursing on demand, it is rare that I go very long when I'm not at work without nursing her. And I admit, I'll have a couple glasses of wine during the evening and I still nurse Violet that night. I am usually drinking with my meal, over the course of several hours, and would never nurse her if I felt even a little drunk. That's not to say that I haven't worried about the safety of drinking while being a breastfeeding mom. I've read as much about it as I can (curiously, there isn't a lot of research on the topic), and talked to lots of moms. It seems that lots of breastfed kiddos have survived their mom's social drinking and I am pretty confident that my minimal alcohol consumption has no affect on sweet Baby Violet. The first time I drank after Violet was born I was so nervous, I asked Shawn several times if he thought it would be OK for me to feed her. I have gotten over that fear, as you can see by the accompanying photo. No real staging was needed for this; I have a glass of wine 3 or 4 nights a week.

I think, more than any worries I have about Vi's health or development, I worry that people will judge me as a bad or negligent mom. I certainly don't want to give people who are ignorant about nursing any ammunition. That's why I was so disheartened when Shawn told me about the Connecticut mom who was arrested for breastfeeding her infant while intoxicated. You can read the story here. Clearly, this mom was in the wrong, having 7 drinks with a 3 week old baby is just too much, but it sounds like she needs some treatment for post-partum depression, not a trip to county jail. Anyway, I think a good rule of thumb for parents of infants, breast feeding or not, is that if you have had too much to feel safe holding the baby, you've had too much to be an infant's caregiver. But if the police are going to start arresting moms for the crime of drunk nursing, there needs to be some clear rules about how much is too much.

1 comment:

Aly said...

I was worried the first time I had a glass of wine while breastfeeding too. The small amount that you & I consume is safe, yet there are certainly people out there who would judge us for doing so.

In my opinion, those who drink so much that they don't recognize they shouldn't nurse or hold their child are probably dropping the ball in other areas of parenting too. It's a shame b/c their extreme behavior makes it seem like even a sip of wine or beer is an awful thing.