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According to research, two-thirds of Australian women who breastfeed did not feel that they fully understood the risks of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.

The study Alcohol and breastfeeding: Beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and behaviours commissioned by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) of women who were or had recently been breastfeeding (in the past two years) and usually drank alcohol (when not pregnant or breastfeeding), found that:

  • 67% felt that they do not fully understand the risks of alcohol use while breastfeeding
  • 65% were not aware of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Alcohol Guideline for women who are breastfeeding
  • 93% of women who had consumed alcohol while breastfeeding had employed some harm minimisation strategy. However, many were using ineffective harm minimisation strategies.

FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi said the study illustrated the gap between parental willingness to follow best practice, knowledge of best practice and the actual strategies and behaviours followed by parents.

She said the research highlighted the need for more information on alcohol and breastfeeding.

“There are a lot of mixed messages about alcohol and breastfeeding. Clear messages are needed about how to ensure breastmilk is alcohol-free.”

Ms Giorgi said that women needed the facts.

“They want to know what the guidelines say, what the evidence says – what the best way is to reduce their harms.

“Every survey that we undertake around alcohol, whether it relates to pregnancy, or breastfeeding, or use more generally, people talk about how they really rely on their health professional to provide them with advice… The moments that health professionals spend with women really do matter.

“The only thing that eliminates alcohol is the time that’s spent [not drinking],” she said, explaining that the period since your last standard drink is the only reliable metric to know when alcohol has left your body.

“We know that alcohol passes from the bloodstream of the woman into her breast milk and that it takes two hours for your body to process one standard drink… One standard drink is often a lot smaller than what people think.”

Ms Giorgi said midwives could do several things to help parents, such as inform on best practice (including that it’s safest not to drink at all while breastfeeding), communicate current information, and create a non-judgemental and stigma-free space for open and honest discussion.

“Midwives play such a significant role in the health of mum and bub, from pre-conception through to when the baby arrives,” Ms Giorgi explained.

“The information that they provide to women is so important, and making sure that information is clear and consistent with the evidence and that people are referred on for further support when they need it is [also] really important.”

More information on best practice alcohol and parenthood for parents and health practitioners can be found “Every Moment Matters” campaign.