Friday, December 5, 2008

Alcohol content of breast milk: Cheers!

Abstract/Introduction:
All nursing mothers worry about how their food and drink affect their child. One big concern is alcoholic beverages. For years mothers have been told to avoid even a sip of alcohol. However, many women have heard stories of their ancestors drinking beer to increase milk production and just for enjoyment. As a new mother with a scientific mind (and ready access to forensic testing equipment), I decided to see who's idea was correct - the teetotalers or our ancestors.

Method:First I took a sample of my milk (about 1 mL) prior to drinking any alcoholic beverage. I expressed the milk mid-nursing session to ensure I had a goodly portion of fore and hind milk. After completing the nursing session, I mixed myself an alcoholic beverage consisting of 2 oz of 80 proof (40%) vodka in 10 oz of soda (Sprite). I proceeded to drink the entire 12 oz in about 30 minutes. About 30 minutes after finishing (1 hour after beginning to drink), I expressed some milk (about 1 mL) and labeled it 'immediate'. I then waited 1 hour and expressed more milk (about 1 mL) and labeled it '2 hours'. In the 2 hours (from the beginning), I did not drink any more alcoholic beverages, drink other beverages, or eat any other foods. Another day, 1/2 of a beer (4.3% alcohol) and 2-6 oz glasses of wine were consumed within 1.5 hours. About an hour from the beginning of the last drink, a milk sample (about 1 mL) was taken. This sample was labeled '1 hour - 3 drinks'. Another sample was taken about an hour after that (2 hours after the beginning of the last drink). This sample was labeled '2 hours - 3 drinks'. 

The samples were stored in the refrigerator until processing. An Agilent headspace instrument was used to run the tests. Propanol and ethanol standards were also tested to ensure the instrument was within limits. The instrument is maintained by the Toxicology Section and used in forensic determinations of blood and urine alcohol content.

Results:The sample labeled as 'immediate' registered as 0.1370 mg/mL which correlates to 0.01370% alcohol in the sample. The sample labeled '2 hours' registered as 0.0000 mg/ml which correlates to 0.0000%. The sample labeled '1 hour - 3 drinks' registered as 0.3749 mg/mL which correlates to 0.03749% alcohol in the sample. The sample labeled '2 hours - 3 drinks' registered as 0.0629 mg/mL which correlates to 0.00629% alcohol in the sample.

Conclusion:The alcohol content in breast milk immediately after drinking is equivalent to a 0.0274 proof beverage. That's like mixing 1 oz of 80 proof vodka (one shot) with 2919 oz of mixer. By the way, 2919 oz is over 70 liters. Two hours after drinking one (strong) drink the alcohol has disappeared from the sample. Completely harmless to the nursing infant. Drinking about 3 drinks in 1.5 hours resulted in higher numbers, but still negligible amounts of alcohol would be transferred to the child. One hour after imbibing in 3 drinks, the milk was the equivalent of 0.07498 proof beverage. That would be like adding 1 oz of 80 proof vodka (one shot) to 1066 oz of mixer (1066 oz is over 26 liters). Two hours after imbibing in 3 drinks, the milk was 0.01258 proof. That would be like adding 1 oz of 80 proof vodka to 3179 oz of mixer (over almost 80 liters). So, even though an infant has much less body weight, any of these percentage of alcohol in breast milk is unlikely to adversely affect the baby. Cheers!

Acknowledgement:Forensic Toxicologist


Notes:

  • Due to baby not nursing every time a sample was retrieved, only fore-milk was obtained for alcohol testing. However, since alcohol is more easily dissolved in water (fore-milk) verses fats (hind-milk), the samples may actually be higher in alcohol content verses a good mix of fore- and hind-milk. Alas, I was unable to breastfeed my second child, so no duplicate samples or analysis was available. 
  • At the time of this study I was a forensic biologist for the State Police. The analysis was done according to state law for blood alcohol content (AC) analysis by an experienced chemist.
  • Results were not duplicated nor were they intended to be. While I wrote this in the form of a scientific journal article, I am not claiming that every case would be the same. However, since blood AC and breath AC are determined the same way and drunk driving laws are standardized regardless of body weight, number or size of drinks, or metabolism, I made the decision to report this as a possible standard. 
  • Responsible parenting was implemented (it wasn't just me drinking with baby, daddy and granddaddy were also present).
  •  Results may vary, so do what makes you most comfortable. However, don't act like someone else is an irresponsible parent because they make a different choice than you. 

37 comments:

Janine said...

that's hilarious!

Craig said...

Amazing work. Thanks for taking the time to publish raw data. It's reassuring to have concrete results even if your milage may vary.

Brahe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary @ Better Than Eden said...

This is so interesting, thank you for taking the time to do this! Do you happen to know if this would be different for different women? Does milk production vary either in how fast food and drink is metabolized or the extent that things in the food or drink are "released" into milk? It always seemed with my little babies that they would sleep a bit worse if I chose to have a drink in the evening. Fascinating stuff, in my opinion :)

Unknown said...

The mystery of fetal alcohol syndrome, the problem that science is striving to solve is this: why is it that some neonates are permanently brain damaged by light maternal drinking while others are not affected even though their mothers drank heavier. It is a mystery why some women pass more alcohol to the baby. It shocks me that a woman would risk their own childs future until this is solved!

Anonymous said...

Do not forget that your baby has 10-20 times less your body mass and thus requires that same factor less alcohol to have effect.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for doing this!! Awesome work!

Anonymous said...

That has absolutely made my day ;) Bottoms up ! x

Alice Robinson said...

Awesome! Thanks for doing the experiment!

eurolacpuntnet said...

Great work! I achieved the same results (more or less) by doing the math. Of course people will say this is not really scientifically sound proof, but it does confirm the math (alcohol levels in milk are the same as in maternal blood at the time of milk making, and it drops at the same rate, while still in the breast, as it drops in the blood).

Anonymous said...

I don't drink, but I do fermented drinks (kefir, kombucha) and have been stressing about possible alcohol content. This is very reassuring. Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

That's awesome!! But the results can vary from person to person because you metabolize the alcohol differently from the next person right? Still--- I'm sure the results would be similar, though, for the next person. Anyway, that is super helpful info!!!

Anonymous said...

Someone should do the same kind of test with cannabis - I'm curious how the body would filter that out too.

Anonymous said...

I bet you had fun doing this research!! lol This is also really cool. How did you measure the alcohol content in the breastmilk? You did a legit research study at home. Cool.

Mrs. Skojec said...

This is interesting. I have always wondered. Two of my daughters posted this on Facebook. It will have tons of hits, to be sure! How does the chemo affect the milk? or other meds? I hope you are feeling well.

Anonymous said...

Excellent info. Should compare to the alcohol content in kid medicine ;)

Christina said...

Thanks for doing this! I have always wondered the amount of alcohol that goes into the milk. This gives actual evidence instead of just someones opinion. Really appreciate it! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Do you know of any study that has been done similar to this with cigarettes or illegal drugs?

Anonymous said...

why would you take a chance with your child?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, you chose to take your initial sample mid nursing session, but you did not choose to do the same with the samples post alcohol consumption. I wonder if the numbers would have been different had you taken those samples, mid nursing session, as you did the first?

Anonymous said...

This is terrific. Thanks for posting. I indulged in alcoholic beverages while I nursed and both of my children are a-ok. Every thing in moderation.

Greg Nolan said...

Wow. Based on the fact that the article has 57000 views, I can only assume people read it and take it as truth. If you ignore the fact that the author makes no mention of her credentials or qualifications to make these conclusions, this "study" is still completely flawed on so many levels. Because somebody on the internet adds words like abstract and method to something they have written does not make it any more valid. I do not know the actual data behind alcohol consumption and alcohol levels in breast milk, but I can safely say that if you are concerned with your infant being exposed to alcohol, abstaining from consuming alcohol is a safe bet.

Anonymous said...

This is a dangerous statement to make! This assumes that body weight of the baby is the only factor that impacts their ability to process alcohol. There are metabolic processes which take place in adults that do not occur in babies. Your conclusions also make a very blanket statement about ‘safe levels' of alcohol consumption which again negates the biological differences between adult women in their processing of alcohol. Having spent a great deal of time in social work and clinical psych settings with much of my practice involving work with children on the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder spectrum, I think that you should potentially reconsider the way in which you present your conclusions. While I won't argue that your numbers are accurate, I would argue that the way in which you have presented them as conclusive evidence that breast feeding after drinking is perfectly ok is completely irresponsible. The medical and neurology professionals have not been able to determine the 'safe levels' of consumption while breast feeding; I question whether you are in a position to do so.

Anonymous said...

Stress can hinder milk production and any mother knows having a baby can be at times stressful! So it is good to know that having a drink to help you feel like an "adult" and not just a "mommy/nursing machine" will not negatively effect my baby is great! I say this with two ** One* alcohol should not be the only means of stress reduction as a good walk in the sunshine is also very helpful. Two* always have a sober caregiver for children, now I would not be drunk after one drink but I might be after three when I have not had any alcohol while pregnant, in fact I guarantee I would be cause I'm a lightweight. And goodness knows with a four year old boy and a 10 month old girl at 9:30pm after a long day with the kids finally asleep and little sleep the night before, I am not going for a walk in that moment, but my hubby is going to pour me a nice vodka and sprite and i am taking 15 minutes to myself (very good for stress reduction). Now thanks to you without the side of guilt, it is greatly appreciated!

Tiffany Gallagher said...

This is wonderful. Thanks for offering yourself up for this important research! :)

Cassandra K said...

Well that's cool that you did this study, however I don't plan on drinking while nursing anyways, kind of irresponsible parenting.

LeahD said...

I am a new mom and have been looking for solid information on this, love that you tested this! Thanks for your time and sharing:)

Anonymous said...

Awesome work! It would have been interesting to compare those numbers to your BAC at the time just as a reference point. I'm a nerdy lab rat bf-ing momma and this was right up my alley!

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that alcohol is a solvent that allows any toxin to cross the phospholipid biilayer. right?

Anonymous said...

Love the science of how this was down. Thank you for doing it. I can enjoy my glass of wine with dinner before feeding my baby at bed time.

Anonymous said...

I would still worry about doing this too much! even small amounts of alcohol over long periods of time might cause damage? I mean a night out every few months, once a year with a few drinks, I am ok with. but to have 4 or 5 glasses of wine a week now because someone provided evidence that 'hardly any' passes to milk.... it might have damaging effect on the baby.
I am all for everything in moderation of you choose... I just worry for babies if someone takes this that they can return to normal drinking habits. and maybe they have been drinking too much!
Jay x

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this!

Cindy Ariesta Nugroho said...

Awesome! Thanks for doing the experiment!
alcohol depression

Dr. Basim Elhabashy said...

The effects of alcohol drinking and what should be necessary steps to be taken.In starting phase keep a small amount or no alcohol at home. Don't keep temptations around.

Edward J Cejka said...

Thanks for all your post you can suggest very handy content on alcohol it is very helpful to me as well as others.

Anonymous said...

Here are some similar studies that have been published on this topic:
http://www.infantrisk.com/content/alcohol-and-breastfeeding

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