You’ve spent 9 long months paying careful attention to everything you eat and abstaining from alcohol.
Now your baby has been born and it’s time to celebrate!
Sushi, deli meats and soft cheeses are all back on the menu… but what about alcohol?
Specifically, alcohol and breastfeeding – is it safe?
Is it ok to go back to enjoying a glass of wine with the favourite foods you missed for so long?
What about having more than one glass?
What happens if you really let your hair down and end up having a boozy night, but you still need to breastfeed your baby?
It’s well known that the use of alcohol during pregnancy can be hazardous for a baby.
If you’re pregnant, the safest option is to not drink any alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect an unborn baby’s development.
Many women are also keen to know whether alcohol is safe to consume after they have given birth.
The advice about alcohol and breastfeeding can often be conflicting and somewhat confusing.
In this article, we’ll cover some facts about alcohol and breastfeeding.
We’ll also answer 6 common questions asked by mothers.
Fast facts about alcohol and breastfeeding
- Alcohol enters your breast milk easily, at about the same rate it enters your bloodstream
- Alcohol leaves your breast milk at the same rate that your blood alcohol levels drop
- Alcohol will be present in your breast milk about 30 minutes after your first drink
- The level of alcohol in your breast milk will peak at around 1 hour
- It takes the average woman 2 hours to metabolise 1 standard alcoholic drink
- The amount of alcohol that reaches breastmilk is 2-5% of the amount consumed. For example, if a mother’s blood alcohol content is 0.05%, then her breastmilk alcohol content will be around 0.001-0.0025%
- The only thing that will reduce the amount of alcohol in your breast milk is time
- It is not recommended to feed your baby infant formula if you plan to drink. It is recommended instead that you plan ahead.
What does alcohol do to your milk supply?
Consuming alcohol inhibits the release of oxytocin from the brain.
Oxytocin is the hormone that plays a role in your let-down reflex, the action that makes your milk available to your baby.
You can read more about the let-down reflex in the article How Does Breastfeeding Work? An Explanation | BellyBelly.
If your let-down reflex is inhibited, then it is harder for your baby to get a sufficient amount of breast milk from a feed.
Multiple studies have been conducted on babies whose mothers have consumed alcohol.
The results showed that in the 3-4 hours after they had a drink, their babies breastfed more frequently but received less milk in total.
The old wives’ tale that drinking beer can increase your breast milk supply is simply that: a tale.
Questions about alcohol and breastfeeding
#1. Is it OK to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
Experts advise that not drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is the safest option.
However, occasional alcohol use while breastfeeding has not been shown to have any adverse effects on babies.
The reason for the conflicting advice is that it’s hard to measure the exact amount of alcohol a baby has directly consumed through her mother’s milk.
It is also difficult to measure other confounding factors that could have led to any adverse effects on a particular baby.
We do know for certain, however, that drinking excessively while breastfeeding can be harmful to your baby.
For the first month of your baby’s life, it is recommended that you continue to abstain from alcohol.
This is because your newborn baby’s liver is immature and cannot metabolise alcohol at the same rate an older baby’s liver can.
Another reason is that your baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns are likely to be very unpredictable.
This makes it nearly impossible to plan how you will combine drinking alcohol and breastfeeding in the safest manner.
As time goes on, your baby’s eating and sleeping patterns become a little more predictable.
This will make it easier for you to plan ahead so that you can enjoy a drink and safely breastfeed your baby.
#2. How much alcohol actually gets into breast milk?
The amount of alcohol in a mother’s breast milk is actually only a fraction of the amount she actually ingested.
For example, if your baby drank 100 ml of breast milk while your blood alcohol concentration was 0.05, this would be equal to your baby ingesting around 1.5 ml of beer, 0.5 ml of wine, or 0.2 ml of hard liquor.
#3. How long should I wait to breastfeed after drinking alcohol?
The average woman takes around 2 hours to metabolise 1 standard drink.
The level of alcohol in your breast milk peaks anywhere from 30-60 minutes after your first drink and will fall rapidly if no more alcohol is ingested.
If you continue to drink, the rate at which your body metabolises alcohol varies.
Things such as your body weight, the type of alcohol ingested, and the amount of food you have eaten that day are all factors that will affect your rate of metabolism.
The safest option is to breastfeed your baby when your body has metabolised any alcohol you have consumed.
If you are confident your baby will not need to be fed sooner than 2 hours after her previous feed, you could breastfeed your baby, have 1 standard drink, then generally return to breastfeeding again in 2 hours.
This would give your body time to get rid of the alcohol from your breastmilk.
If you think you will be having more than 1 standard drink every 2 hours, it’s wise to plan ahead.
#4. Can I breastfeed after a night of drinking alcohol?
As previously mentioned, it all comes down to planning in advance.
You will need to keep track of how many alcoholic beverages you have consumed over what period of time.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has designed an app based on alcohol and breastfeeding.
You can use it to track your alcohol consumption and estimate when your breast milk is safe for your baby again.
Download the app for free at Feed Safe.
It is also important to note that alcohol consumption will affect your ability to care for your baby.
It is recommended that any adult who is under the influence of alcohol does not share a sleep surface with a baby.
So if you are planning a big one, having enough expressed milk is not your only consideration.
If you are having your baby cared for by another responsible adult, it might be helpful to remind yourself you could be returning to parenting duties with a terrible hangover the following day.
#5. Does alcohol leave pumped breastmilk?
Alcohol is not stored in your breastmilk.
‘Pumping and dumping’ (i.e. expressing and discarding) your breast milk will not remove the alcohol from your milk.
You might have heard reasons why you should express your breast milk while you are drinking alcohol.
The main one is so that you can maintain your supply if you are planning to skip more than one breastfeed while you are drinking.
Another reason is that if you have overdone it, you will need more time to make sure your milk is safe for your baby to drink.
The alcohol present in the milk you express will not be metabolised, as it would inside your body.
That means that if you express while you are drinking alcohol, that milk needs to be discarded.
Planning ahead is important. If you know there will be a period of time where your milk will be unsafe for your baby to drink, express enough milk to meet your baby’s needs beforehand.
Using infant formula so you can drink alcohol is not recommended.
Using formula as a backup can affect your supply and lead to early weaning.
Nothing replaces human breast milk as the best source of nourishment for your child.
Therefore, careful planning before drinking is recommended.
#6. What does alcohol in breast milk do to a baby?
Although lots of studies have been done into the effects of alcohol during pregnancy, less is known about the effects of alcohol in breast milk.
It is known that alcohol in breastmilk can cause harm to babies if it is consumed in large amounts.
Babies affected by maternal alcohol have been shown, in the short-term, to be drowsy, weak, unresponsive and to have deeper patterns of sleep.
Long term effects are inconsistent weight gain and delayed development.
Studies have also shown that, over time, excessive alcohol can affect the cognitive and psychomotor development of school-aged children.
Should I avoid alcohol or is it ok to drink occasionally?
Many mothers find themselves in social situations where they would like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
Maybe you’re catching up with girlfriends or having a well-deserved date night with your partner while someone takes care of your baby.
Whether or not you have a drink is a choice you have to make.
Breastfeeding mothers often enjoy alcohol and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) describe it as ‘usually compatible’ with breastfeeding.
If you are concerned about how alcohol might affect your baby, you should weigh up the risks and benefits.
If your concerns outweigh your desire to drink alcohol, you could enjoy a mocktail instead.
With a plan in place about how you can drink and continue to provide breast milk to your baby, you can enjoy yourself safely and confidently.