Drinking alcohol is a big part of many people’s social lives, but it can be difficult to know when it is safe to breastfeed after breastfeeding – especially how much is safe to drink.
Many women like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two while out with friends, at the beach or on vacation. However, they also want to make sure that they don’t hurt their baby in any way by doing so.
This article offers simple advice about what happens when your body processes alcohol and why this matters for breastfeeding mothers and babies. You’ll learn about how long alcohol stays in your breast milk and what amount is considered safe (and not safe). As well as some tips for cutting down on drinking without feeling left out of all the fun!
Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
Many new moms wonder if it’s safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding. The official guidelines are clear about this: There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed while breastfeeding.
But what if you have already had a drink or two? Many moms assume that even though there’s no safe level of alcohol, it must be okay to breastfeed as long as the mom doesn’t get drunk. Or they may have heard that some alcohol actually helps boost milk production.
The research on whether low levels of alcohol consumption are safe for breastfeeding moms is limited, but all the studies point to the same bottom line: Breastfeeding is the safest option for babies if mom avoids drinking completely.
What do health professionals recommend?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers who choose to drink should limit their intake and only breastfeed before drinking. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that women should avoid drinking alcohol if they are breastfeeding.
In one study, research has shown that if breastfeeding moms drink one drink per day, her baby will not be exposed to too much alcohol. That’s why special precautions for breastfeeding mothers are not needed.
When is it safe to breastfeed after drinking?
This really depends on how much alcohol you consume. The CDC says “Generally, moderate alcohol consumption by a breastfeeding mother (up to 1 standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours after a single drink before nursing.”
If there is still a high blood alcohol concentration then it is not safe to be breastfeeding your baby.
Key points about drinking while breastfeeding
There are some key points to remember when you are breastfeeding and drink alcohol.
Effects of alcohol on breast milk
- Alcohol is always present in your breastmilk, at about the same level as it is in your bloodstream
- The higher the alcohol intake, the longer it takes for you to metabolize it and make yourself sober
- You should not drink more than 1-2 drinks over an hour period if you are breastfeeding
Effects of alcohol on baby
Since your baby has an immature liver and a developing brain, alcohol can cause greater damage to him than it would for you. Alcohol passes through quickly and takes around 30-60 minutes to get into your breastmilk, whereas it takes only about 20 minutes for your baby’s blood alcohol level to peak, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Having an occasional drink you will have small amounts of alcohol pass through but this has not shown to have any long term effects but daily consumption or excessive drinking by a breastfeeding mother likely contributes to poor weight gain, disrupted sleep patterns, delay in motor development and possibly even cognitive delays later in life.
Effects of alcohol on mom
There is a myth that beer can promote breast milk production but studies has shown that that is actually false. Beer has even been shown to decrease milk production.
One study even showed that having two or more drinks was associated with a shorter duration of lactation. Alcohol can actually dampen the hormonal response to your baby’s sucking, resulting in less milk flowing out (milk ejection reflex) when you nurse him.
This overtime will lower your breast milk supply from not fully emptying your breast at each feeding.
Related article: Best Organic Formulas for Breastfed Babies
Will Drinking Alcohol Alter My Milk Supply?
Drinking alcohol can affect your milk supply. If it is an occasional intake of alcohol, this will not overall lower your supply but if you are regularly drinking alcohol, this has been shown to lower your breast milk supply.
Many have heard that alcoholic beer can boost supply but this is actually just an old wives’ tale. No matter what the type of alcohol that you drink, it can only have a negative effect on your supply.
When should you pump and dump?
If you have drunk excessively and alcohol is still in your blood, pumping and dumping will not get rid of it. It’s in your milk until it is out of your blood, so if you are still under the influence, do not nurse your baby.
If alcohol is no longer detectable in your blood and it has been longer than 2 hours since finishing the last drink, it’s safe to nurse your baby as long as you do not have any side effects from the alcohol. If you consume a very large amount of alcohol and it takes more than 2 hours for it to become undetectable in your blood, then wait until the alcohol has been out of your system before attempting to breastfeed.
During the waiting period, express breast milk and dump it out (known as pump and dump) as usual to keep your supply up. When you feel sober and there’s no more alcohol in your system, then it’s likely safe to nurse.
Related article: How Long Does Breast Milk Last After it’s Been Warming?
Alternatives to alcoholic beverages
It can be tempting to keep up at your girls night out with drinking but first consider some mocktails as a great option. You can also ask the bartender at your favorite spot to make you something refreshing and non-alcoholic!
What do they mean by “moderate consumption”?
When health care professionals say drink in “moderate amounts” it means, women of legal drinking age in the United States can have up to 1 standard drink per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
What is considered a drink?
We’ve all seen that friend with the one “glass” but could also be considered a goblet.
Let’s break down what one drink actually means because it depends on the concentration of alcohol in each drink. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a standard drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer at 5%
- 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7%
- 5 ounces of wine 12%
- 1.5 ounces of liquor (80 proof) 40%
All of these drinks contain 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Just be cautious when choosing your drink. Many beers now have a higher concentration of alcohol content so adjust accordingly. This will help you know how long to wait and to know when is it safe to breastfeed after drinking.
Can pumping breast milk after drinking alcohol reduce the alcohol in the mother’s milk?
If alcohol is in your blood, it does not matter if you pump and dump the milk. This will only be helpful to give you relief from engorgement and keep your supply up. It will not lower the amount of alcohol in your milk.
To reduce the level of alcohol in your milk, wait for the alcohol to clear from your bloodstream (this could take up to 2 hours per drink).
Safety while drinking alcohol
It is never safe to care for an infant while intoxicated and binge drinking. If you are planning on drinking alcohol, find a sober adult to take care of you infant at that time.
Never bed share or co-sleep with your baby when you have been drinking alcohol. Drinking affects your natural reflexes, and drinking while bed-sharing has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Make sure your baby sleeps in their own crib.
If you ever feel that your alcohol consumption is higher than it should be and are worried about alcohol abuse or that it’s hurting the way you breastfeed, talk to your healthcare provider and lactation consultant. They can help the elimination of alcohol and figure out what else to do.
Tips when drinking and breastfeeding
Here are some tips if you are planning to drink alcohol.
Less is better
While drinking alcohol, less is always better for you and your breastfed baby. After drinking one alcoholic beverage, wait at least 2 hours before breastfeeding your baby or giving him a bottle of breastmilk. If you are drunk, don’t breastfeed your baby at all until you sober up and have another caretaker take care of him.
Timing you feeding
Nursing baby right before you have your drink will give you more time to process the alcohol before you will have to breastfeed your baby again. The AAP recommends waiting at least two hours after each drink before breastfeeding.
Related article: How Often Should You be Breastfeeding Your 1 Year Old?
Plan ahead when possible
If you know you are going to be drinking, be sure to plan ahead. Keep some stored breast milk or formula ready to go in case you need it for your baby’s next feeding. If possible, pump and dump to relieve any engorgement that can happen from skipping a feeding.
It is important to be mindful of how much alcohol you drink when you’re a breastfeeding mom. Keep in mind that it takes at least 2 hours for your body to process one alcoholic beverage, so try not to breastfeed right after drinking or wait until the alcohol has left your system before attempting lactation again. If possible, it is a good idea to pump and dump milk during this waiting period to keep up the supply while abstaining from nursing.
For those who are struggling with their breastfeeding relationship due to excessive alcohol consumption, talk with a healthcare provider about finding healthier alternatives. Be sure to never share bed space with an infant while intoxicated because doing so has been linked with SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). To prevent more serious problems down the line, remember these tips on when it is safe to breastfeed after drinking to keep both you and your baby safe.