Facts About Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Relaxed Parenting

Petri Oeschger / Getty Images 

Bring up the topic of alcohol and breastfeeding and more than likely you'll hear a mixed bag of opinions on how safe it is, how it affects breast milk supply, and when and how you should resume breastfeeding after drinking.

Sadly, some claims about alcohol and breastfeeding can erode a parent's desire to nurse or damage the breastfeeding relationship with their baby. That's why it is important to make sure you have the facts about alcohol and breastfeeding to keep you and your baby safe.

Breastfeeding Parents Can Drink Alcohol in Moderation

While frequent, excessive drinking is strongly discouraged, there is nothing wrong with the occasional alcoholic beverage while breastfeeding. Nursing parents can drink, as long as they drink in moderation. 

A good way to put a number on "drinking in moderation" is limiting drinking to a single beverage one or two times a week. So you can go ahead and enjoy a glass of wine or beer every now and then without breastfeeding guilt.

The Time It Takes for Alcohol to Leave Breast Milk Varies

The time required for alcohol to leave your breast milk depends on several factors including your body weight, the alcohol content of the beverage you were drinking, how many ounces you drank, and the amount of time it took you to drink it. To be on the safe side, waiting at least two hours after a single drink before you breastfeed is a good rule of thumb.

If you can safely (and legally) drive a car without concern of a DUI, you are most likely sober enough to breastfeed your baby.

Alcohol Does Not Build Breast Milk Supply

The claim that alcohol increases milk supply is a pretty old one, based largely on lay opinions. Research has not only debunked this idea but showed that the exact opposite to be true.

Not only does that beer or glass of wine not build your supply, it actually serves to decrease your breast milk supply and inhibit milk letdown. It is far better to stick with established methods of boosting breast milk supply instead.

Pumping and Dumping Does Not Eliminate Alcohol

There is no need to "pump and dump" milk after drinking unless you are skipping a feeding, experiencing discomfort from engorgement, or want to make sure you keep up your supply. Pumping and dumping will not speed up how your body processes alcohol out of its system. Your body needs time to rid your breast milk of alcohol.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends waiting for at least two hours after a single drink before breastfeeding. By that time, your baby's exposure to alcohol will be very low.

Alcohol Becomes Diluted in Breastmilk

When you drink, the alcohol content is diluted in your bloodstream, and the alcohol in your breast milk is diluted in your baby's bloodstream.

The average glass of wine is around 10% to 12% alcohol. A breastfeeding parent who weighs 120 pounds and drank two to three glasses of wine over an hour would have an estimated blood alcohol content of between 0.06% to 0.10% alcohol—much less than the alcohol content of the wine itself.

The same goes for your baby. If your baby drinks breast milk that is 0.08% alcohol, their blood alcohol level would be far less than that. However, as a baby has much less blood, the dilution will also be less. That's why it is best to wait to breastfeed until most of the alcohol has left your bloodstream.

Alcohol in Breast Milk Does Not Improve Baby's Sleep

The claim that as alcohol transfers to breast milk it will have a soothing effect on the baby is enduring. However, medical research has shown the opposite to be true (although the studies are small and were conducted many years ago): Breastfed babies of light drinkers sleep less than babies of non-drinkers.

Alcohol in breast milk actually disrupts a baby's active sleep (the nice deep sleep that we all need). Tests on adults and animals who drank alcohol showed they also experienced similar issues. So consuming alcohol via breast milk could cause a baby to wake more frequently at night. If you are looking for ways to get your baby to sleep better at night, drinking is not a method to use.

What's even more troubling: If a breastfeeding mother tried to use this technique on a regular basis and drank even one alcoholic beverage every day, that alcohol could have negative effects on the baby's gross motor development.

There is also a proven link between sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and alcohol consumption in parents who co-sleep.

A Word From Verywell

These are the three take-home facts:

  1. Responsible drinking in moderation is fine, but don't go overboard.
  2. You should never co-sleep if you have been drinking.
  3. Your breast milk will be safe for your baby to drink if you allow time for the alcohol to leave your system naturally.

Breastfeeding mothers do not have to avoid alcohol entirely. It is possible to find a balance ​between drinking safely and responsibly without having ill effects on your baby's health or your milk supply.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Haastrup MB, Pottegård A, Damkier P. Alcohol and breastfeeding. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2014;114(2):168-173. doi:10.1111/bcpt.12149

  2. May PA, Hasken JM, Blankenship J, et al. Breastfeeding and maternal alcohol use: Prevalence and effects on child outcomes and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Reprod Toxicol. 2016;63:13-21. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2016.05.002

  3. Committee opinion no. 496: At-risk drinking and alcohol dependence: obstetric and gynecologic implications. Obstet Gynecol. 2011;118(2 Pt 1):383-388. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e31822c9906

  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastfeeding your baby.

  5. Mennella JA, Gerrish CJ. Effects of exposure to alcohol in mother's milk on infant sleep. Pediatrics. 1998;101(5):E2. doi:10.1542/peds.101.5.e2

  6. Mennella JA, Garcia-Gomez PL. Sleep disturbances after acute exposure to alcohol in mothers' milk. Alcohol. 2001;25(3):153-158.

  7. Blabey MH, Gessner BD. Infant bed-sharing practices and associated risk factors among births and infant deaths in Alaska. Public Health Rep. 2009;124(4):527-534. doi:10.1177/003335490912400409

Additional Reading

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.