Is it safe to drink alcohol while breast-feeding?


What are the recommendations for alcohol consumption while breast-feeding?

Moderate alcohol consumption is safe for mothers breast-feeding their infants. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as about one drink per day. At this level, research shows there are no known harmful effects to the infant. However, more than one drink per day is not recommended.

Of course, not drinking alcohol while breast-feeding is the safest option. Avoiding alcohol while nursing will prevent any exposure to alcohol in your infant. It’s also the best way to prevent possible drinking-related nursing issues, including reduced milk production.

While it is safe to nurse and drink in moderation, it’s important to understand how long alcohol is present in your breast milk after you drink and what you can do if you want to avoid sharing any alcohol with your infant.

Alcohol and breastmilk

alcohol and breastfeeding
Alcohol can be detected in breast milk for two to three hours after drinking.

Research shows that only about 5 to 6 percent of the amount of alcohol in the mother’s bloodstream enters the baby’s bloodstream via breast milk. That’s very low.

Even if a mother were binge drinking, one study found that the levels of alcohol in her breast milk would not reach clinically significant amounts. Of course, binge drinking is not advised.

Alcohol levels typically peak 30 to 60 minutes after drinking an alcoholic beverage. The alcohol can be detected in breast milk for two to three hours.

If you’re concerned about transferring alcohol to your infant, you can wait two hours after a single drink before you nurse. This will give your liver time to filter the alcohol.

The more alcohol you drink, the higher your blood alcohol level will climb. The level of alcohol in your breast milk is equivalent to the alcohol level in your blood. Extra drinks prolong the duration that alcohol will be detectable in blood and breast milk.

Does pumping remove alcohol from milk?

Alcohol is in breast milk as long as alcohol is in your bloodstream. Once the blood alcohol level peaks, it will slowly dissipate as your liver is able to process it.

You may have heard of women pumping breast milk immediately after drinking alcohol and discarding it. This “pump and dump” practice is not necessary, and it doesn’t reduce the amount of alcohol present in your milk more quickly. It can help reduce engorgement, though, if you’ve been drinking alcohol and are unable or unwilling to breast-feed to avoid potentially passing alcohol to your baby.

If you plan to drink alcohol and know your baby will be hungry within the two-hour window after you drink, you can always pump ahead of time. However, unless you are experiencing discomfort, there is no need to pump breast milk until your infant is ready to nurse again, even if you’ve been drinking.

As your blood alcohol level falls, the level of alcohol in your breast milk will fall, too.

If the baby is hungry within two hours after you drink a moderate amount of alcohol and you did not pump ahead, it is likely safe to breast-feed. Again, the amount of alcohol transferred to your baby through breast milk is so low there are no known problems, complications, or issues.

Effects of alcohol on babies

At moderate levels (one drink per day), alcohol has no known complications or side effects for babies, especially if the mother waits two hours after drinking to breast-feed or pump. Exposure to alcohol above this moderate level, however, may lead to delayed development, growth problems, and interrupted sleep patterns for the infant.

Despite the all-clear from leading health organizations, some studies have raised concerns that low-level drinking may cause issues for babies, even if they are not long-term and chronic. For example, one very small, older study from 1998 found that infants who had alcohol via breast milk slept for 25 percent less time than infants who did not have breast milk with alcohol.

Another study from 1989, which is often cited among groups who do not think mothers should drink while breast-feeding, concluded that 400 one-year-olds who had been exposed to alcohol via breast milk in their first year of life had lower scores in motor skill development than children who were not exposed to alcohol. However, the researchers were unable to replicate those findings in a follow-up study six months after their initial findings.

In short, research does not suggest that infants experience any negative side effects or complications if their mothers have a drink occasionally. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that higher levels of alcohol consumption may be problematic for both mother and baby.

How long do you need to wait after drinking?

Alcohol will be in breast milk as long as alcohol is in your blood. The length of time alcohol will be in your blood and breast milk will increase as you drink more alcohol.

In moderate drinking terms, one drink is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer (with an ABV of 5 percent or less)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (with an ABV of 7 percent or less)
  • 5 ounces of wine (with 12 percent ABV or less)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor

Keep in mind that some high-gravity beers have higher alcohol by volume (ABV) ratings, and drinking one of these is the equivalent to drinking more than one drink. For example, 12 ounces of beer with 9 percent alcohol contains as much alcohol as two standard drinks.

If you drink alcohol, this guide will help you know how long you should wait to breast-feed if you’re concerned about passing alcohol to your infant.

  • 1 drink = 2 to 3 hours
  • 2 drinks = 4 to 5 hours
  • 3 drinks = 6 to 8 hours

These are general guidelines. How long alcohol will be in your bloodstream and breast milk depends on several factors, including:

  • your weight
  • if you ate food when you drank
  • how much alcohol you had
  • how quickly you drank it
  • how fast your body naturally breaks the alcohol down in the liver

You cannot speed up the process. Drinking water will help you feel hydrated and more alert, but it will not increase the speed at which your liver metabolizes liquor.

Is it safe?

It’s likely safe to drink when you’re nursing as long as you’re drinking no more than one drink per day. Not drinking alcohol is the safest option, of course.

If a mother does drink while breast-feeding, their infant may experience some changes to sleep, but research hasn’t linked moderate drinking to any long-term complications, risks, or adverse health outcomes.

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