We get many queries related to alcohol consumption and breastfeeding. This is not an easy topic to address, and mothers who seek information about drinking alcohol when breastfeeding find contradictory messages and different information depending on where they live.
Here we are trying to shed some light on the subject by providing different aspects and publications of reputable organizations so that each mother can make her own decision with the information in hand.
The consumption of alcohol
Before exposing the different positions on the subject, we would like to make clear that alcohol is bad for health, always, and for everyone. It is not true that a glass of wine a day is healthy; the evidence tells us just the opposite. And obviously, it is even more dangerous for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Remember that during pregnancy, the consumption of alcohol is absolutely off-limits; you should never drink alcohol during pregnancy. See more information on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Regular consumption of alcohol during breastfeeding impairs the baby’s psychomotor development and causes little weight gain and sedation. In addition, it is important to remember that if you have consumed alcohol, co-sleeping is dangerous and not recommended. In addition to this, alcohol content in your breast milk is proven to affect your baby’s sleep.
Can I have an alcoholic drink if I am breastfeeding?
There is no specific amount of alcohol that is safe to drink when breastfeeding. It will depend on several variables, such as your baby’s age. If your baby is over one month old, an occasional small glass of wine or champagne at a celebration is not a problem.
Should I pump and dump the milk?
To answer this question, it is important to understand that the breast does not work like a warehouse that stores a specific amount of milk but works just like a factory. And as long as there is still alcohol in the bloodstream, there will also be alcohol in the breast milk that your body produces. In the same way, as the alcohol disappears from your body, it will disappear from the breastmilk. Therefore, it is not the removal of a certain amount of milk that will remove the alcohol content; it will disappear on its own, but it takes time to pass.
And how long should I wait?
The elimination of alcohol from the bloodstream depends on the amount of alcohol you have taken and your body’s constitution. According to e-lactancia.org, it is advisable to wait for two and a half hours for every 12-15g of alcohol consumed (a third of a 5% beer or a glass of wine with an alcohol content of 11-12%).
NHS UK (1)
“An occasional drink is unlikely to harm your breastfed baby. But never share a bed or sofa with your baby if you have drunk any alcohol. Doing this has a strong association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”
La Leche League UK (2)
“The effects of alcohol on your baby are directly related to the amount you drink. When you drink occasionally, the amount of alcohol your baby receives has not been proven to be harmful. Things to consider: 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”
“If you are sober enough to drive, you should be sober enough to breastfeed.”
Drinkaware UK (3)
Australian Breastfeeding Association (4)
“If you want to, you can enjoy a glass of wine, a beer, or whatever it is that you choose to drink. The key is to plan ahead. The concentration of alcohol in your blood is the concentration of alcohol in your milk. Only time will reduce the amount of alcohol in the milk in your breasts.
The safest option when breastfeeding is to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. However, planning ahead can allow you to express some milk for your baby ahead of time. Your baby can have this milk if you miss a feed while drinking or while you are waiting for the amount of alcohol in your milk to drop.”
The Australian Breastfeeding Association provides a leaflet with a table containing the approximate time taken for alcohol to be cleared from breastmilk according to your body weight.
E-lactancia.org is a non-profit website developed by pediatricians. It is a valuable resource where you can find out the compatibility of medicines, drugs, and other substances and breastfeeding. In this case, e-lactancia classifies alcohol as high-risk and explains it this way:
“The time needed to wait to breastfeed so that the alcohol ingested occasionally has disappeared from the milk and blood depends on the weight of the mother (the less weight, the longer time) and the amount of alcohol consumed (the more alcohol, the longer time).”
American Academy of Pediatrics (6)
“Alcohol passes through your breast milk to your baby, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding drinking alcohol when breastfeeding. Drinking beer does not increase your milk supply, as urban myth(s) suggests.”
“Expressing or pumping milk after drinking alcohol, and then discarding it (“pumping and dumping”), does NOT reduce the amount of alcohol present in your milk quicker.” Remember that the alcohol level in your milk will always decrease at the same rate as the alcohol level in your blood, so time is crucial.
Spanish Association of Pediatrics (7)
“It is very important not to drink alcohol at least during the first 3 months. After the first months small and sporadic amounts are tolerable (a small beer or a glass of wine once or twice a week), try to keep them away from the feeds. Do not drink highly alcoholic beverages, such as gin, liquors, or whiskey. The popular myth that a glass of beer a day increases milk production has no scientific evidence to support it.”
It is clear that alcohol during pregnancy is totally inadvisable. During breastfeeding, it is best to be very careful. The smaller your baby is, the more care you should take. As they grow – although you must continue to be careful – if you want to drink alcohol sporadically, the risk to your baby is much lower. Also, a two-month-old baby who is exclusively breastfed will not be the same case as a two-year-old who already eats other food, so you can space out your drinks more.