CanFASD: Putting Evidence in Women’s Hands – Alcohol and Cannabis Use When Breastfeeding

Two updated resources are available about alcohol and breastfeeding: a research update from CanFASD Alcohol and Breastfeeding and a brochure from Best Start Mixing Alcohol and Breastfeeding. They both illustrate how little research there is available, and how public health messaging directed to new mothers has changed over time.

The public health message currently offered to mothers is that it is safest not to drink alcohol when breastfeeding and if one chooses to drink, to avoid drinking near the time of breastfeeding, so that infants are exposed to the very least amount of alcohol. Some recent studies about alcohol use when breastfeeding have not found negative effects for infants – and instead, have found that low level drinking during breastfeeding was not associated with shorter breastfeeding duration or adverse outcomes in infants up to 12 months of age. These adverse outcomes included effects on infant feeding and sleeping behaviour, as well as developmental outcomes.

Yet, infants cannot metabolize alcohol in the same way as adults, and exposure to alcohol places them at risk of potential alcohol-related harm, in the short, if not long term. As a result, the weight of decision-making about breastfeeding and drinking alcohol rests on women. What is low level drinking, and how can one assess the many confounding factors related to alcohol’s effects – sex, genetics, nutrition, use of other substances, etc.? All of these issues are in play for their own, and their infant’s health.

Similarly, in light of cannabis legalization, more attention has been placed on the impact of cannabis use on breastfeeding. As with alcohol, initial public health messaging focussed on the studies that showed risk. But, a recent review of the literature led by Dr. Alice Ordean of St Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, found only two articles that addressed the impact of postpartum cannabis use by lactating women that provided developmental outcomes for infants. (Read more…)