Breastfeeding and Alcohol Consumption

Breastfeeding and Alcohol Consumption

It is well known that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus. The placenta is not a barrier for toxic substances, and even moderate drinking can cause devastating brain damage. But what about breastfeeding? Does that glass of wine you enjoyed with dinner pass into the baby through your milk?

The short answer is, “yes.” The alcohol you consume enters your bloodstream almost immediately and, therefore, is in your milk rather quickly. But even though the alcohol does transfer to your milk, the amount of alcohol your baby experiences is much less than the amount you drink. Unlike the placenta, the breast provides some protection from most toxins in your bloodstream. According to Dr. Thomas Hale, the dose of alcohol in milk is less than 16% of the mother’s milk.

The amount of alcohol in your milk will peak 30 to 60 minutes after you enjoy your drink. After that time, the alcohol levels decrease rapidly as long as you don’t have another drink. Alcohol is not stored in your milk. It quickly dissipates as your blood-alcohol level decreases. (Please note: Alcohol in pumped milk does NOT decrease over time.)

There is no need to “pump and dump” (how I hate that phrase!) if you enjoy an alcoholic beverage. But it is a good idea to time your drink for just after a breastfeeding session. That way most of the alcohol will be out of your bloodstream by the time your baby wants to eat again.

After 40 weeks of abstaining, you may be excited about that first glass of wine. A note of caution from someone who has been there. Be careful! Many sleep-deprived mothers find alcohol packs a much bigger punch than before the pregnancy. If you choose to imbibe, take it slowly.

What about alcohol and milk supply? Many mothers are told to drink a beer so their milk will “come in” faster. Perhaps your wise grandmother advised you that beer would increase your supply. On the contrary, we now know that alcohol inhibits oxytocin release. Since oxytocin is responsible for your milk ejection reflex or let down, alcohol consumption actually decreases the amount of milk released from the breast during a feeding. Over time this can lead to a decrease in milk supply.

Drinking during breastfeeding is a personal choice—one of many decisions that you will make as a mother. The bottom line is that alcohol in moderation, keeping in mind the timing of your drink, is probably not harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists alcohol as “usually compatible” with breastfeeding. Excessive drinking can, however, lead to developmental delays.

In summary:

  • Alcohol enters milk freely, but in lesser amounts than is in your bloodstream.
  • The peak level of alcohol in breast milk is 1/2-1 hour after it’s consumed.
  • Time your drink for right after the baby nurses.
  • There is no need to pump and dump.
  • Waiting about 2 hours after having a drink is a general guideline to ensure complete metabolism of alcohol (for a 180 lb. female).

Your milk is the best thing for your baby. Planning your alcohol consumption is advised over using formula to replace milk that may contain a small amount of alcohol.