Are you wondering if it’s ok to be drinking alcohol while breastfeeding?

Are you getting conflicting advice? Unclear answers?

Not sure where to find the evidence about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding?

Well, as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I’ve got you covered.

First things first. Like a lot of things pregnancy and postpartum related… this is going to be an individual choice. As people we are all very different. If you do something different from the other women at the office… GREAT. Don’t feel bad and don’t make them feel bad either.

The point of this article is not to tell you what to do. The point is to give you some facts, some things to consider and give you the tools to make an informed decision for yourself when it comes to drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.

 

Things to consider when it comes to drinking alcohol while breastfeeding

1. How much alcohol are you going to consume?

This helps work out your blood alcohol level. Your blood alcohol level will be exactly the same as your milk alcohol level. It is a popular misconception that alcohol becomes diluted as it finds its way to the breast milk. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

2. Will you be eating? 

If you eat whilst drinking the blood alcohol level takes longer to peak.

3. How old is your baby? 

Babies livers are immature and, until around 3 months of age, babies metabolize alcohol at half the rate of adults. Simply put, it takes much longer for them to clear the alcohol from their system.

 

Should I pump and dump?

Most people at least consider this as an option. It can be a little confusing.

The only thing which clears your milk of alcohol is time, pumping will not speed this process.

Alcohol passes freely between the bloodstream and your breastmilk the only time your milk will be alcohol free is when your blood alcohol has returned to normal. This is the same regardless of whether you pumped 5 times or not at all.

So in actual fact pumping and dumping is not necessary unless you have to. This might be a time when you plan to drink a lot and can’t get through the day without expressing.

If you DID pump while your blood alcohol level was high the milk alcohol level will be high, and will continue to be so. In this case the milk you expressed should be disposed of.

If you consume a minimal amount of alcohol and your blood alcohol is expected to return to normal prior to babies next feed or your next pumping session, you should be fine!

So how do you know when your blood alcohol level returns to normal???

 

How long does it take for the alcohol to be out of my system!?

Great question!

This can depend on your weight (people metabolize things differently based on their size you know!) and on whether you are eating at the time you’re drinking.

As a general rule blood alcohol peaks 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. This extends to 60 to 90 minutes if the alcohol was consumed while eating.

A 140lb women will take on average 140 minutes to clear the alcohol from a single serving of wine from her system. The same women would take 4x that amount of time (9-10 hours) to clear 4 drinks.

As I mentioned before, it takes your baby at least twice as long to clear the alcohol from their system dependant on their age. This is one of the key things to remember when judging the importance of waiting until your blood alcohol level is normal!

 

How does alcohol affect the baby?

It might not surprise you to find there are no huge randomized studies of alcohol and how it affects babies as it is considered unsafe. We have to use retrospective studies and individual cases to give us the best idea.

So far documented side effects are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slow weight gain
  • Inhibited gross motor development
  • Failure to thrive
  • Reduced milk supply in mother
  • Inhibited let down reflex in mother

 

How do I drink safely?!

My advice is always the same.

Try to work out how much you will be drinking, stick to it and plan ahead.

If it’s just 1 or 2 drinks you might be able to continue as normal at your next feed. As long as it has been at least 2-4 hours since consumption. If your baby feeds more regularly than this you may consider bringing some expressed milk for a feed in between.

If this is a big event with lots of drinking the best solution may be to pump enough beforehand and have a full day/night worth of milk to use. These occasions with extended drinking would mean that you need to maintain supply. Bring a breast pump, pump as often as you would feed the baby and dump whatever you express whilst you suspect your blood alcohol level is elevated.

Alternatively if this is the 10th article on drinking alcohol while breastfeeding you’ve read and the whole thing has you in a spin, just don’t do it.

There’s enough to worry about with a new baby and if this is really starting to add to the load, it might be a sign you just don’t need the extra stress.

 

Things to help!

It goes without saying that if you’re not sure get help from a professional like me! Check out my single and package consultations here.

Here is a really comprehensive handout I used to give moms in Australia (I used to live there… it’s pretty fantastic). It was created by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Here’s a handy milk alcohol level calculator I found:

Here’s a helpful drinking chart I print out for mom’s if I know they have an upcoming drinking event!

 

Take home messages

My take home messages about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding would be:

  • Plan ahead
  • Pick an amount and stick to it
  • Pump if you need to but know it won’t speed up the process of lowering your milk alcohol level
  • Be sure you’re comfortable with the plan! You can just not drink!

 

Need some advice on your Breastfeeding Diet as well?

Image of woman asking for help with her breastfeeding diet

Now that you’re a bit more educated of the effects drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, you should check out my Ultimate Breastfeeding Diet article as well. It will give you a good foundation for the types of food and other drinks (besides alcohol) you’ll want to be putting into your body.

If this was helpful to you, chances are it will be helpful to others too! Please share!

 


 

My name is Marie I’m a board certified lactation consultant living in San Diego! You can read more about me here. If you’re a new mom, soon to be new mom or know someone who could benefit from some friendly help or advice please see my services here or send them my article about getting the most out of your lactation consultant!

Marie Hobden

About Marie Hobden

I qualified as a Midwife in the UK in 2010 and have been lucky enough to help thousands of families, from all walks of life, in 8 very different hospitals, across 3 different continents.

I’m now based in San Diego, CA helping to normalize breastfeeding for new and expecing families.

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