Drinking in Moderation While Breastfeeding

Family standing drinking champagne.

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Some people consider breastfeeding incompatible with social drinking. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while not drinking while breastfeeding is preferable, they acknowledge that the occasional drink is OK for breastfeeding mothers. The bottom line is that new mothers shouldn't give up on breastfeeding just because they want to drink alcohol on occasion.

The key is to limit the frequency and the amount of alcohol you drink while following strict safety precautions in order to protect their baby when they do partake. Here is a closer look at what you need to know about alcohol and breastfeeding.

How Alcohol Passes Into Breast Milk

Unlike many medications that pass from the mother's body to her milk and typically reduce in potency, alcohol passes freely from the mother's blood to her milk. In fact, researchers note that alcohol concentrations in breast milk closely resemble those in maternal blood. That means if a mother has a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08%, which is legally drunk in many areas, her breastmilk will be .08% alcohol. What does this mean for a nursing baby?

According to one study, the amount of alcohol that a baby consumes through breast milk is roughly 5% to 6% of the weight-adjusted maternal dose. If a 154-pound (70 kg) woman were to drink four standard-sized drinks at one time and then breastfeed her baby at the point when her BAC was the highest, her baby could potentially develop a BAC of .005%. This figure is based on the assumption that the baby weighs approximately 13 pounds (6 kg) and drinks 5 ounces (150 ml) of breastmilk over several feedings.

Even though the alcohol that a baby is exposed to when a mother drinks is only a fraction of what she is exposed to, it's important to note that newborns metabolize alcohol at about half the rate of adults so the alcohol they do consume from breast milk stays in their body longer.

Plus, studies have shown that exposing a baby to alcohol through breast milk can impact everything from development to sleep. Even though the amount of alcohol in breast milk is smaller than you might expect, it is not without risks.

Quantity of Drinks

When it comes to breastfeeding and alcohol, the middle ground is to advise mothers that one or two drinks a week is preferable to a few drinks a day. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommends that women limit their alcohol consumption and only drink on occasion. For instance, a 132-pound (60 kg) woman should only drink 2 ounces of liquor, 8 ounces of wine, or two beers at one time and should only drink on occasion, not every day.

Generally, breastfeeding moms also should wait a minimum of 2 hours after they have enjoyed their beverage to breastfeed in order to minimize the concentration of alcohol in the breast milk. In the meantime, they can feed their baby previously expressed breastmilk, formula, cereal, or another solid food if they are old enough.

Of course, determining exactly how long to wait after drinking before breastfeeding again depends on the number of drinks the mother had.

For instance, the CDC indicates that one drink can be detected in breast milk 2 to 3 hours after the mom finished her drink. Meanwhile, alcohol from two drinks can be detected 4 to 5 hours later, and the alcohol from three drinks can be detected for about 6 to 8 hours. A breastfeeding mother will need to consider how many drinks she had to determine when it's safe to nurse her baby again.

Expressing Breastmilk

Most medical experts agree that "pumping and dumping" breastmilk does not express the alcohol out of the body. Alcohol remains in breast milk for as long as alcohol remains in the woman's bloodstream. Instead, the mother must wait a few hours after she finished her last drink for the alcohol to metabolize out of the body.

The only reason to pump would be for her own comfort level or to relieve engorgement.

If a breastfeeding mother does pump while under the influence of alcohol, she should refrain from storing or feeding her baby the milk expressed during that time and instead rely on previously pumped milk for the feeding. The milk expressed while alcohol was in her system should be discarded.

It's also important to note that alcohol is not a galactogogue and does not stimulate milk production. In fact, it impairs milk production by blunting the prolactin response. One study found that the amount of expressed milk a woman was able to pump after drinking was 9.3% lower on average in the first 2 hours after alcohol consumption. Consequently, drinking on a regular basis could significantly impact milk production and supply.

Dangers of Alcohol

Although nursing moms can enjoy alcoholic beverages from time to time, the CDC advises against it if at all possible. However, they acknowledge that moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful to babies as long as the mother waits at least 2 hours before nursing her baby.

Of course, there certainly is reason to be concerned about drinking on a regular basis or drinking heavily. According to the CDC, drinking and breastfeeding can negatively impact an infant's growth, development, and sleep patterns.

One study found that mothers who drank alcohol daily were more likely to have babies that experienced psychomotor delays. Several studies also have noted changes in eating and sleep patterns for infants.

For instance, researchers found that infant sleep was 25% shorter after ingesting breastmilk with traces of alcohol. Babies also tended to consume less breastmilk when compared to babies whose mothers did not drink. Furthermore, drinking alcohol impairs judgment and affects the mother's ability to rouse from sleep, which can put a baby in danger.

Mothers who have been drinking should make sure their baby is being properly cared for by a friend or family member and should absolutely not co-sleep with their baby in order to prevent accidental death.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to drinking, breastfeeding moms can find a comfortable middle ground that allows them to enjoy an occasional drink and still maintain the nursing relationship. While there is no need to choose not to breastfeed based on the idea that you will never be able to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, it is important that you take appropriate precautions if you do drink in order to keep your baby safe.

Remember, alcohol impairs judgement and motor skills and could cause you to unintentionally injure your baby. Exercise caution if you're going to drink and ensure that your baby is properly cared for by a friend or family member. You also need to be sure you have expressed milk to feed your baby while waiting for the alcohol to exit your system. This way, you can enjoy an occasional drink without worrying about the health and safety of your baby.

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6 Sources
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