#WorldBreastfeedingWeek, Breastfeeding Myths and Questions – “Do” and “Do Not”

You can find Part 1 of this blog series here.

This post will cover many of the “do” or “do not” topics – drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, what to eat, and medication safety!

*Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The information on this blog should not be used as a substitute to medical advice or medical treatment. As always, your Primary Care Provider, a doctor, or another health professional is your best resource for specific questions and medical advice. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact 911.*

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

70.3% of 91 voters said you could drink the same amount as you can legally drink before driving.

So, having 1-2 drinks while breastfeeding has not been shown to cause harm, according to recent research.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that this should be maximum about two drinks (however it depends on the weight of the mother) and should only be done occasionally – meaning they do not advise you have 2 beers or 8 oz of wine every single day. There is a big difference between drinking frequently or binge drinking, and having the occasional alcoholic beverage.

Often – according to research, the topic of alcohol consumption during breastfeeding is not discussed with mothers in detail unless they bring up the topic themselves. A good point to keep in mind for my healthcare friends working with new mothers – it’s something important that should be discussed and understood. Why? Because some mothers may stop breastfeeding if they really enjoying having a drink every so often if they don’t understand that they can still enjoy the occasional beverage.

Will drinking beer or Guinness help with milk production?

Although there is a tiny bit of truth to this in regards to beer specifically (a component of barley can cause an increase in prolactin and therefore an increase in supply), alcohol does not increase but decreases production (it inhibits oxytocin).

So – the occasional enjoyment of an alcoholic beverage doesn’t appear to be an issue for a breastfeeding mother, but you want to avoid drinking excessively or too frequently if you’re going to be nursing your baby. You don’t need to stop breastfeeding though – talk with your provider if you have questions or concerns.

La Leche League has some more information on drinking alcohol while breastfeeding here. As always – websites should be a secondary resource to your healthcare provider!

Note: The option with the least risk is of course abstaining from drinking entirely!

What about smoking cigarettes?

80.7% of 88 voters said it is true – you should not smoke while breastfeeding. It is case dependent and is a decision you need to make based on your situation and with the help of your primary care provider(s).

Many women may choose not to breastfeed because they smoke – however, there are still benefits to breastfeeding even for a smoking mother and her baby.

If you were a smoker before pregnancy (and I am not at this time talking about smoking during pregnancy, just breastfeeding) then it may be hard for you to imagine not smoking afterwards. La Leche League says that if you are going to smoke, then you should do it away from your baby, preferably after a breastfeeding session (some research says that it’s best to place several hours between breastfeeding and smokingbut you should talk to your provider about this).

Wash your hands after smoking and before handling baby (this goes for anyone who smokes and will be handling baby, not just mom), and watch your baby’s weight (though evidence that smoking affects weight gain is mixed). All of this should of course be done only after a conversation with your provider!

You may find pregnancy or having a new baby is a good window of opportunity to quit smoking. Nicotine products can be used while breastfeeding, but you should follow the advice of your doctor regarding the safest way to use these while you are breastfeeding. They will also be able to provide you with resources that you may need to facilitate this.

It is still important to recognize the risks smoking has for a baby – the risk for SIDS is higher with smoking parents (21% of SIDS related deaths involve smoking). Babies may also have decreased appetite and this may impact their weight, though as I mentioned results are mixed. Iodine deficiency and low vitamin C are other possible issues that may arise, as well as more frequent ear and respiratory tract infections.

Even nicotine use (for cessation) has risks. Some studies have shown that it may impact children’s ability to learn and remember things. There is also the risk of the other ingredients in tobacco products, although there is less known about these risks currently.

The list goes on and there are many studies that have been done on the subject, so it really comes down to a risk vs benefit discussion with your provider and making a decision that works.

Ok, what about food? Should I avoid potential allergens like egg and peanut butter while I’m breastfeeding?

86.2% of 87 voters said you do not need to avoid these while breastfeeding – yes unless you’re advised otherwise by your trusted healthcare professional, you don’t need to avoid potential allergens (unless you or baby have an allergy!)

If you notice your baby is having some type of allergic reaction and you are breastfeeding, you should always contact your provider for advice. First, to assess whether it is truly an allergy-related reaction, and secondly to help determine the cause so that you can avoid it.

However, if baby is doing well you do not need to avoid allergens while breastfeeding (unless of course, you have an allergy or if you have a family member with a severe allergy to something – then have a discussion with your doctor).

If these situations don’t apply to you, then you can actually continue to eat as you normally would, taking precautions to reduce the risk of food borne illness of course (which you should always do).

Mothers commonly cut out foods unnecessarily, so if you have concerns of any kind about something you’re eating and your baby’s reaction, contact your provider.

Enjoy your peanut butter and eggs (and whatever else) unless there are any contraindications to you doing so. Spice up and season your meals if you’d like & baby seems unbothered. Enjoy what you like, while trying to maintain a healthy and/or balanced diet.

Can I take medications while breastfeeding?

78.9% of 90 voters said it depends! It does depend on the medication you’re interested in.

There are, of course, certain medications that are safe to take while breastfeeding and some that are not (and many times it is due to lack of evidence that they are safe).

Since it’s too much to cover every possible medication in this post, I’m here to provide you with some valuable resources where you can look to see if a medication is safe or not. Please remember that you first stop for information about medication should always be your provider or trusted pharmacist! That being said, here is a list of additional resources to use:

One additional resource that I was very lucky (and thankful) to have shared with me is from a PharmD Lactation Consultant – Savannah Sparks! It is a super helpful list of medications that are safe during pregnancy. You can find the information below:

And that’s a wrap for Part 2! Stay tuned for Part 3, the final part of this series! Unfortunately it won’t be released until next week so happy #WorldBreastfeedingWeek to everyone!

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