New research presented in Melbourne shows that moderate alcohol consumption by breastfeeding mums does not cause harm to their baby.
An occasional alcoholic drink while breastfeeding in the first eight weeks after giving birth appears to cause no harm to the baby, says an Australian researcher.
A study conducted by the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), UNSW and Deakin University found low levels of alcohol consumption had no impact on breastfeeding duration, infant feeding and sleeping behaviour at eight weeks.
There was also no negative association with infant developmental outcomes at eight weeks or 12 months.
"Whilst this study certainly does not in any way condone excessive alcohol consumption in new mums, it does suggest that those that have the occasional drink whilst using strategies to prevent alcohol reaching the infant, can do so without fear of causing harm," said lead researcher Delyse Hutchinson.
Dr Hutchinson presented the findings at the APSAD Scientific Alcohol and other Drugs Conference in Melbourne.
There is limited research regarding the effects of alcohol consumption by breastfeeding mothers on infants, and to rectify this researchers examined the frequency and outcomes of alcohol use during lactation.
Researchers looked at data from the Triple B Pregnancy Cohort - a study of alcohol use during pregnancy and development outcomes in infants at 12 months of age.
Substance use was assessed during pregnancy and at eight weeks and 12 months post-birth. Breastfeeding duration, infant feeding, sleeping and development were also assessed.
The findings showed most women had consumed alcohol while breastfeeding. Alcohol use was reported by 60.7 per cent at eight weeks and 69.6 per cent at 12 months.
These women were more likely to be born in Australia or another English-speaking country, be tertiary educated and have higher household incomes.
Most drank at low levels, less than 14 standard drinks per week and less than three on a single occasion.
"Low level drinking during breastfeeding is not linked with shorter breastfeeding duration or adverse outcomes in infants up to 12 months of age," the authors concluded in the paper published in journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
In fact, the paper suggests an occasional tipple may have benefits.
"The only significant association showed that infants whose mothers drank at eight weeks postpartum had more favourable results for personal-social development at 12 months compared with those whose mothers abstained," the authors wrote.
The NHMRC guidelines on alcohol consumption for pregnancy and breastfeeding say not drinking is the safest option, and that women should avoid all alcohol in the first month after delivery until breastfeeding is well established.
After that, alcohol intake should be limited to no more than two standard drinks a day and should be avoided immediately before breastfeeding.
Women who wish to drink alcohol are also advised to consider expressing milk in advance.