Drinking and breastfeeding rules: what you need to know

If you’re a pregnant mom, you may be longing for the day your baby is born so you can savor that first, sweet sip of alcohol in over nine months. And obviously so you can meet your baby, too… But woohoo, a DRINK! After going so long watching others indulge while you couldn’t, you might be feeling very ready for a few glasses of wine.

Lots of breastfeeding mothers, however, quickly learn that drinking alcohol isn’t as simple as it once was. It involves a complex series of equations and sums that dictate how much, and when, you can safely consume alcohol between feeds. Pythagoras himself would be bamboozled by it, let alone a severely sleep-deprived mom.  (Thankfully, there are apps to help with the maths!)

Here, we’re going to look at the effects of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, and how you can safely enjoy the occasional (and much-deserved) drink. Cheers to that!

First things first. Can you drink while breastfeeding?

If you have a mouth and a glass of the good stuff, then yes of course you can. But is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

While tons of studies have proven the negative effects of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, it’s a bit more complicated when it comes to breastfeeding. Your doctor may advise you to avoid drinking alcohol while you’re nursing altogether (*gasp*). The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention considers this the safest option, but it also suggests that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, up to one drink a day, is not known to cause harm to infants. 

Having an occasional drink is usually fine – but just keep in mind that alcohol transfers into your breast milk. There are some handy guidelines you can follow to limit your baby’s exposure to alcohol when you drink. Because you don’t need a lit baby on your hands. 

How much alcohol can you drink while breastfeeding?

It’s widely agreed that up to one drink per day is fairly safe, as long as you wait at least two hours before breastfeeding your baby. Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to get the inside scoop on what’s considered a ‘standard drink’. (Hint: a bottle of wine isn’t counted as ‘one’.)

The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) puts it this way:

  • Ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake but no more than 0.5 g alcohol per kg body weight, which for a 60 kg (130lb) mother is approximately 2 oz (60ml) liquor, 8 oz (230ml) wine, or 2 beers.
  • Nursing should take place 2 hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk.

Of course, every woman’s body is different and metabolizes alcohol in a different way. It may be useful to chat to your doctor about what’s most suitable for you.

The relationship between alcohol and breast milk

As we’ve already mentioned, any alcohol consumed passes into your breast milk. It’s most potent 30-60 minutes after consuming it, and a drink can be detected up to three hours later.

Alcohol in your breastmilk works the same way that alcohol in your bloodstream works. There’s no way to reduce the level present in your milk (i.e. even if you pump after having a drink), just like there’s no way to change your blood alcohol levels except waiting it out. The alcohol in your milk will gradually decline over a few hours, making breastfeeding safe again.

Effects of alcohol on breastfeeding and your baby

While it’s safe to drink occasionally, even alcohol in moderation can affect your baby and how you nurse them. Here are some of the main things to keep in mind when popping a bottle.

Milk supply

You may have heard that alcohol (particularly beer) stimulates milk supply. This is rarely the case these days, as beer isn’t brewed how it used to be, and it contains different ingredients. The AAP clearly states that, “Alcohol is not a galactagogue; it may blunt prolactin response to suckling.”

So it can actually affect milk supply in a negative way. It hinders your body’s milk ejection reflex (the letdown response). It also reduces your lactation hormones, and decreases milk production, so babies may experience up to 20% less milk intake than usual in the three to four hours after alcohol consumption.

Sleeping patterns

Moms of newborns tend to do everything in their power to promote infant sleep. It’s the bane of their existence. And while ingesting alcohol may make babies sleepy, it’s been shown to disrupt sleeping patterns. One study revealed that one of the effects of exposure to alcohol in mothers’ milk was significantly less active sleep in the 3.5 hours after nursing.

Baby’s motor development

Studies have found that maternal alcohol consumption may affect infant development. In particular, a “significant detrimental effect on motor development” has been observed in one-year-old breastfed babies exposed to alcohol through breast milk.

Impaired judgment 

We obviously don’t need to tell you that excessive alcohol consumption can impact your behavior and decision-making skills. Looking after a baby is best done with your wits about you, so if you do choose to drink more than a few alcoholic beverages, see if you can call in some childcare backup.

Child’s relationship with alcohol

Drinking is one of those things that we can sometimes turn to as an emotional outlet. We won’t get into that too much here (go chat to your therapist), but it’s interesting to note that parents with binge drinking tendencies or who drink in emotional contexts pass on certain thoughts and behaviors to their children around alcohol. 

For example, studies show that infants whose moms drink while breastfeeding may be more likely to interact with alcohol solutions. And school-aged children may build a negative association with alcohol based on their parents’ alcohol abuses.

THE RULES: AKA your guide to drinking alcohol and breastfeeding safely

1. Aim for one drink per day max

Moderate, occasional drinking is the safest way to go when you’re a nursing mom. One per day is the standard recommended limit, but we understand sometimes you might let loose and go over that. This is what that freezer stash of expressed breast milk is for – yay!

If you’re more comfortable avoiding alcohol altogether, but don’t want to feel left out when your friends are drinking, there’s some pretty great alcohol-free drink options you can get these days. Ask for a mocktail version of any of your fave cocktail at bars, or seek out an alcohol-free beer from the liquor store.

2. Wait two hours (per drink) before feeding

This is the rough amount of time it takes for alcohol to leave your system. If you have two drinks, wait four hours. If you have three drinks, wait six hours. And so on.

3. Dispose of breast milk with alcohol in it (“pump and dump”)

If your boobs are engorged after skipping a few feeds while drinking, you can pump them to relieve that awful pressure (and avoid any nasty mastitis flare-ups!). Just make sure you “dump” after drinking and pumping, because the expressed milk will have alcohol in it.

4. Offer a feed before drinking alcohol

A good way to time your drinking is to have one right after a breastfeed. Expressing milk before a drink is also a great way to have a bottle feed on hand during the time there’s alcohol in your system.

5. Don’t give up on breastfeeding

If you’ve been successfully breastfeeding and enjoying it, there’s no need to give it up just so you can have a few drinks! There are so many benefits to breastfeeding – both for you and for bubs, and the WHO recommends keeping it up until they’re two years old.

So all in all, don’t beat yourself up if you have a tipple sometimes. Momming is hard work, and a drink every now and again may be what you need to be the best mom you can be! 
It may help you to know that about half of lactating women drink. So ignore those judgmental looks at family dinner when you pour yourself a wine. Plan ahead, do your milk maths, and feeding your baby can still go on as normal.

You’ll find more helpful tips, high fives, and encouraging pats on the bum on Mumli, your pocket-sized personal assistant for all things motherhood – coming to your home screen soon. Join the waitlist now.

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