Anything the mother eats or drinks can reach breast milk, including alcohol. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding moms since alcohol can transfer to breast milk, and babies cannot metabolize it well. Alcohol in breast milk can impact infants’ growth and development and impair mothers’ ability to care for the baby safely. Although drinking alcohol is not an indication to stop breastfeeding, lactation experts do not suggest drinking more than one drink per day.
Read this post to know the effects of alcohol on babies and mothers and other common queries related to alcohol while breastfeeding.
Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?
Deedee Franke, R.N, BSN, IBCLC Lactation specialist, Certified Lactation Consultant, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, says, “It is better to abstain from drinking any alcohol, but it is safe to have one alcoholic drink a day and wait two hours before nursing the baby.”
The duration for which alcohol is detected in breast milk may depend on how much alcohol is consumed and other individual factors such as how fast the body metabolizes alcohol.
“Alcohol consumption can be safe while breastfeeding if it is timed appropriately. Alcohol can quickly transfer to breast milk. The alcohol levels in breast milk can be high 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. This may continue to be present in breast milk for about two to three hours per drink after consumption,” says Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC, Breastfeeding Confidential.
What Are The Effects Of Alcohol On Breast Milk Supply?
Excess alcohol consumption may interfere with letdown or milk ejection reflex in nursing moms. As a result, milk production may decrease over time, and breastfeeding duration may shorten (1).
If maternal alcohol levels are too high, it can lead to an imbalance in milk-producing hormones, and the mother may be unable to produce adequate milk for the baby. A small quantity of alcohol may not impact the milk supply, but it can affect the breastfed baby. In addition to these, mothers may be unable to feed properly under the influence of alcohol.
What Are The Effects Of Alcohol On A Breastfed Baby?
“The risks of drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day can shorten breastfeeding duration, damage infant development, and growth, affect the infant’s sleep patterns and impair a mom’s judgment and ability to safely care for her infant,” says Franke.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine states that alcohol consumption during lactation can cause various mild to severe negative effects in babies. The effects may depend on the amount of alcohol consumed by the nursing mom and how quickly their body metabolizes it.
Common effects of maternal alcohol consumption in a breastfed infant may include (2):
- Sleep disturbances such as frequently waking up or arousal due to increased REM (active sleep)
- Increased crying and startling (sudden movements)
- Immune system impairment
- Growth delays
- Motor development delays
- Cognitive impairment
- Failure to thrive and poor weight gain
Some studies show that the amount of alcohol in human milk after consumption can be 95% of the amount present in the breastfeeding mother’s bloodstream. Infants cannot metabolize alcohol as adults do. Therefore, even moderate amounts can impact their health.
What Are The Other Effects Of Alcohol?
Alcohol can also negatively impact maternal health and breast milk production. The effects may vary depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. In the long run, alcohol could damage the liver and also disrupt immune functions in the body. Heavy drinkers are more likely to develop various infections due to immune dysfunctions.
Some evidence suggests that lactating mothers may metabolize alcohol more than others. This may cause unpleasant symptoms and other effects of alcohol, even in small amounts.
Sedative and stimulant effects of alcohol on the mother may put the baby’s safety at risk. It is recommended not to sleep with the baby if you have been drinking alcohol since it can impair the body’s natural reflexes and responses. There is a higher risk of injuring the baby by accidentally rolling over them during sleep (2).
Should You Pump And Dump After Drinking Alcohol?
Pumping and dumping do not reduce alcohol levels in breast milk since alcohol is not trapped or collected in breast milk. Breast milk alcohol levels decline as it declines in the blood. Pumping and dumping do not speed up this process (1).
Expressing breast milk can only relieve the physical discomfort of not feeding on time. It is recommended to discard the breast milk if you are expressing (pumping) breast milk after alcohol consumption since the milk will contain alcohol.
How Long Should You Wait After Drinking Alcohol To Feed A Baby?
You may wait until the alcohol clears from your body to breastfeed. The more you drink, the longer you have to wait to breastfeed. Several other factors, such as body weight, the type and quantity of solid food eaten with alcohol, and how quickly you are drinking, also affect the time taken for alcohol clearance from your body. General rules such as if you are sober enough to drive, you should be sober enough to nurse may not be true in most cases since alcohol metabolism and its effects may vary in each person.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a Feed Safe App to know how much time you should wait to feed your baby based on individual factors. However, it is recommended to avoid drinking while breastfeeding, especially if your baby is exclusively breastfed.
Alternatives To Alcoholic Drinks
Breastfeeding mothers may consider non-alcoholic drinks. Non-alcoholic beverages may usually not be completely alcohol-free and may contain small quantities of alcohol, albeit insufficient to cause intoxication. Thus, you may keep the consumption of non-alcoholic drinks minimal and maintain a time gap before breastfeeding.
You may consider healthier beverages that provide you and your baby nutrition. A few examples are lactation smoothies, almond milk, coconut water, and fresh fruit juices. Try certain relaxation exercises and techniques to help you relax without the need for alcoholic beverages.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is “moderate consumption” and a drink?
The dietary guidelines for Americans define “moderate consumption” for women of legal drinking age up to one standard drink per day. The standard drink can be defined as mentioned below (3).
- 12 ounces of 5% beer
- 5 ounces of 12% wine
- 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor
- 1.5 ounces of 40% (80 proof) liquor
All these drinks contain 0.6 ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. However, many alcoholic beverages may contain more alcohol concentration per drink. For example, 12 ounces of 9% beer contain nearly the same amount as two standard drinks. Therefore, check the percentage of alcohol mentioned on the beverage’s container to determine the quantity that would define as one drink.
2. Can I feed my baby before drinking?
Yes. It is recommended to feed your baby before you consume alcohol. Mothers can also express and store breast milk before alcohol consumption so that the infant doesn’t have to starve until the alcohol clears up from the mother’s body.
3. Can alcoholic beverages help me stimulate milk production?
No. Various studies have shown alcohol consumption in nursing mothers inhibits milk ejection reflex, reducing milk intake by the baby. Although certain alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine are considered galactagogues (substances that promote prolactin hormone) by some people, the alcohol in them inhibits the milk supply. Barley may be beneficial, but in beer, barley comes with alcohol (4).
Breastfeeding, just like pregnancy, is a phase where what you eat could directly impact your baby’s health. You may receive conflicting advice about the positive effects of alcohol and how it may not affect your baby if you consume it with certain food items. However, these claims are not scientifically proven. You may weigh the benefits of breastfeeding and the risk of alcohol on infants before deciding to drink while nursing.