Who doesn’t want to put the baby down (finally!) and have a glass of wine or beer??  Most moms want to know if they can drink alcohol and breastfeed. Previously, we’ve been told “No! Never!”  Perhaps this is because experts were afraid that moms wouldn’t be able to know where to draw the line if they said “yes.”  But, come on, we’re all smart, hyperaware women, right?  Therefore, you know this is a complicated issue (and you should read the rest of this article), but my short answer is “yes,” you can have that one small glass of wine. And if you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to breastfeed.  As Dr. Jack Newman, a Canadian breastfeeding expert, says in his handout More Breastfeeding Myths:

Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.

Thomas W. Hale, R.Ph. Ph.D., says this in his book Medications and Mothers’ Milk (15th ed.):

Adult metabolism of alcohol is approximately 1 ounce in 3 hours, so mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal. A good rule is 2 hours for each drink consumed.  Chronic or heavy consumers of alcohol should not breastfeed.

 

Important Considerations

However, there are important considerations that all breastfeeding moms should take into account before popping that cork:

  • Your baby’s age
    • A newborn has an immature liver, and will be more affected by alcohol
    • Up until around 3 months of age, infants metabolize alcohol at about half the rate of adults
    • An older baby can metabolize alcohol more quickly than a young infant
  • Your weight
    • A person’s size has an impact on how quickly they metabolize alcohol
    • A heavier person can metabolize alcohol more quickly than a lighter person
  • Amount of alcohol
    • The effect of alcohol on the baby is directly related to the amount of alcohol that is consumed
    • The more alcohol consumed, the longer it takes to clear the mother’s body
  • Will you be eating?
    • An alcoholic drink consumed with food decreases absorption

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs considers alcohol compatible with breastfeeding. It lists possible side effects if consumed in large amounts, including: drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness, and abnormal weight gain in the infant, and the possibility of decreased milk-ejection reflex in the mother. See The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk

Thomas W. Hale, R.Ph. Ph.D., says this in his book Medications and Mothers’ Milk (15th ed.):

Alcohol transfers into human milk readily, with an average milk/plasma [mom’s blood] ratio of about 1.0. This does not necessarily mean that the dose of alcohol in milk is high, only that the levels in plasma correspond closely with those in milk. The absolute amount (dose) of alcohol transferred into milk is generally low and is a function of the maternal level. Older studies, some in animals, suggested that beer (or more likely, barley) may stimulate prolactin levels. While this may be true, we now know clearly that alcohol is a profound inhibitor of oxytocin release, and inevitably reduces milk letdown and the amount of milk delivered to the infant. Thus beer should not be considered a galactogogue. [emphasis is Happy Milk’s]

 

More FAQs

Can drinking an alcoholic beverage help me relax and stimulate milk production?
Alcohol consumption has not been shown to stimulate milk production. Studies have found that babies nurse more frequently, but consume less milk in the 3-4 hours after an alcoholic beverage is consumed.

Do I have to pump and dump after drinking an alcoholic beverage?
As alcohol leaves the bloodstream, it leaves the breastmilk. Since alcohol is not “trapped” in breastmilk (it returns to the bloodstream as mother’s blood alcohol level declines), pumping and dumping will not remove it. Pumping and dumping, drinking a lot of water, resting, or drinking coffee will NOT speed up the rate of the elimination of alcohol from your body.

What if I get drunk?
Mothers who are intoxicated should not breastfeed until they are completely sober, at which time most of the alcohol will have left the mother’s blood. Drinking to the point of intoxication, or binge drinking, by breastfeeding mothers has not been adequately studied. Since all of the risks are not understood, drinking to the point of intoxication is not advised.

Can alcohol abuse affect a breastfed baby?
Yes. Alcohol abuse (excessive drinking) by the mother can result in slow weight gain or failure to thrive in her baby. The let-down of a mother who abuses alcohol may be affected by her alcohol consumption, and she may not breastfeed enough. The baby may sleep through breastfeedings, or may not suck effectively leading to decreased milk intake. The baby may even suffer from delayed motor development. If you are concerned that you or someone you know is drinking alcohol excessively, call your doctor.

Weighing the risks and benefits
Many mothers find themselves in a situation where they may want to drink. Maybe you are going to a wedding where wine will be served. Or perhaps you are going on a girls night out, or on a date with your husband. No matter the reason, you may have concerns about drinking and any possible effects on your baby. It is a good idea to weigh the benefits of breastfeeding against the benefits and possible risks of consuming alcohol. You might find the following suggestions helpful.

  • Plan ahead
    • If you want to drink, but are concerned about the effect on your baby, you can store some expressed breastmilk for the occasion
    • You can choose to wait for the alcohol to clear your system before nursing
    • If your breasts become full while waiting for the alcohol to clear, you can hand express or pump, discarding the milk that you express
  • Alternatives
    • If consuming alcohol while breastfeeding is concerning to you, consider enjoying a non-alcoholic beverage instead. Any drink is more fun with an umbrella in it!

 

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