Objective: Contrary to the folklore which claims that drinking alcohol during lactation benefits both mother and infant, previous research in our laboratory revealed that breastfed infants consumed significantly less milk during the immediate hours after their mothers’ consumption of an alcoholic beverage. Because breastfed infants are clearly capable of regulating milk intake, the present study tested the hypothesis that infants would compensate for the diminished milk intake if their mothers then refrained from drinking alcohol.
Methods: A within-subjects design that controlled for time of day was implemented because of the great individual and daily variation in both milk composition and intake. To this end, 12 exclusively breastfed infants and their mothers were tested on 2 days separated by 1 week. Each woman drank a 0.3 g/kg dose of alcohol in orange juice on one testing day and orange juice alone on the other; the order was counterbalanced. The infants’ behaviors were monitored for the next 16 hr, the first 4 hr of monitoring on each test day occurred at the Monell Center. The infants fed on demand and immediately before and after each feeding, infants were weighed without a change in clothing.
Results: Consistent with previous findings, infants consumed significantly less milk during the 4 hr immediately after exposure to alcohol in mothers’ milk compared with the control condition. Compensatory increases in intake were then observed during the 8 to 16 hr after exposure when mothers refrained from drinking alcohol.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that short-term exposure to small amounts of alcohol in mothers’ milk produces distinctive changes in the infants’ patterns of feeding.