Like many new moms, you may wonder if it’s okay to drink alcohol while breastfeeding your little one. You might wonder if it’s harmful to have a drink from time to time. Or, you might have doubts about drinking during the breastfeeding stage of your baby’s life. A little information may help you make a decision.
Alcohol and Milk Production
The urban myth that alcohol, specifically beer, can increase your milk production when breastfeeding is just that – a myth. Many women have used this old wives’ tale as a justification for drinking when nursing their child. The truth is that alcohol can actually have the opposite effect on milk production, leaving you with less milk to feed your child.
Alcohol consumption can not only reduce your milk production, it can also affect the let-down reflex (milk ejection reflex), so your baby receives less milk all around. Alcohol can also alter the taste of your breast milk, making it unappealing to your newborn child.
If you have your heart set on breastfeeding and are overly concerned about the health of your child, you may want to avoid drinking alcohol until you’ve weaned your baby. Having said this, however, it’s important to point out that the ill effects of alcohol on a breastfed baby greatly depend on how much alcohol you consume during this stage.
Alcohol in Breast Milk
When you drink alcohol while breastfeeding, it will pass into your breast milk and eventually into your baby if you breastfeed him or her shortly after consuming your alcoholic beverage. Alcohol levels generally peak between 30-60 minutes of finishing a drink. One drink can remain in your breast milk for up to 2-3 hours.
The more you drink, the longer alcohol will remain in your breast milk, making it more likely that it could find its way into your child.
Various factors can affect the alcohol levels in your breast milk, including:
- The amount of alcohol you consume
- How quickly you consume the alcohol
- Whether you’re eating while drinking or drinking on an empty stomach
- How much you weigh
- How quickly the alcohol is broken down in your body
The effects of alcohol on your breastfeeding baby depend a great deal on how much alcohol you drink. Moderate drinking, such as limiting yourself to one alcoholic drink or fewer at one time, poses less risk to your baby’s health. That’s because the amount of alcohol that baby absorbs from your breast milk is relatively low.
If you wait at least two hours after having a drink to nurse your infant, that adds an extra layer of protection. After the amount of time, there’s a better chance that the alcohol will have passed out of your system.
Risks go up when you start increasing your alcohol intake. Consuming more increases the level of alcohol in your bloodstream and breast milk. The more drinks you consume, the longer alcohol remains in your breast milk.
Drinking heavily on a regular basis as a nursing mom can be detrimental to your baby’s health. Going overboard in your drinking can reduce milk production and disrupt the let-down reflex, causing your baby to receive less milk and nourishment.
Exposure to alcohol can also hinder your baby’s growth and development and upset his or her sleep patterns, something you want to avoid at all costs if you want to get sufficient rest yourself.
Babies aren’t the only ones who can feel the ill effects of drinking too much. Excessive drinking can impair your judgment as a mother, making it difficult for you to properly care for your child.
If you become intoxicated, don’t nurse your child until you are completely sober. Bottle feed him or her instead. If you’re constantly drinking too much at home or at social events, you may have an addiction and be in need of alcohol addiction treatment.
Pump and Dump
Expressing (pumping) your breast milk and dumping it doesn’t reduce the alcohol level in your milk. Pumping and dumping will only alleviate your discomfort if you haven’t nursed for a while.
Time is the factor that decreases alcohol levels in your breast milk, and it usually takes a few hours to reduce your alcohol levels if you’ve had one drink.
If you want to avoid exposing your baby to alcohol in your breast milk, you can express your milk before you drink and save it for your child’s next feeding. Otherwise, wait at least two hours after having a drink to nurse your child. The more you drink, the longer you’ll need to wait to safely nurse your child.
Weigh the Pros and Cons
Before deciding to drink while breastfeeding, weigh the pros and cons. The truth is, that you don’t have to drink while breastfeeding (or at any other time). When in doubt, it’s best to stick to healthy beverages or nonalcoholic drinks such as mocktails until you wean your child.
If you’re comfortable with the idea of having an occasional beer or glass of wine at home or during social events while nursing, it poses less risk to your child’s health if you don’t breastfeed immediately afterward. The key word here is occasional, not necessarily on a regular basis.
By planning ahead, you can drink and avoid exposing your baby to alcohol in your breast milk. Express milk before you start drinking alcohol and store it safely for his or her next feeding. You can also bottle feed your baby until the alcohol in your system has cleared out.
The Bottom Line
Going by research on the subject, it is relatively safe for you to drink while breastfeeding if you stick to the recommended amount, i.e. one drink or fewer per day. An occasional drink might be relaxing for some new moms and help reduce the stress that often comes with having a new baby.
If that one drink, however, starts to stretch into two or more or becomes a daily habit, you may want to forego alcohol altogether while breastfeeding to avoid endangering the health of your child.
There’s no stigma to abstaining from alcohol while nursing your newborn. As a mother, your priority should always be the health and welfare of you and your child.
babycenter.com – Is It True That Drinking Beer Increases a Breastfeeding Mom’s Milk Supply?
breastfeeding.asn.au – Let-Down Reflex (Milk Ejection Reflex)
cdc.gov – Alcohol
healthline.com – Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?
healthychildren.org – Alcohol & Breast Milk
llli.org – Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Article part of external contributor.