Drinking While Breastfeeding: What's OK, What's Not?

What Nursing Moms Need to Know About Alcohol

Young mother breastfeeding her baby boy at outdoor cafe

 

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Is it OK for nursing mothers to enjoy an occasional drink or two? Ask around and you're likely to feel more unsure than before you asked. Conflicting messages about drinking while breastfeeding can leave even the most well-informed mom with a host of questions.

Do I have to stave off drinking completely? Is it OK to breastfeed right after a glass of wine? Will enjoying a margarita harm my baby? Should I pump and dump? We consulted the latest science and expert recommendations to give you the answers you need.

How Much Is It Safe to Drink?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not tell nursing mothers they must give up alcohol completely. Instead, they advise that the "ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized or limited to an occasional intake to no more than 0.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight." This translates to safe consumption limits of about 2 ounces of liquor (a typical cocktail contains under one ounce but alcohol content can vary greatly), 8 ounces of wine, or 2 beers for a woman around 130 pounds. Someone of greater weight could safely drink a bit more, while someone with a smaller build should consume less to adhere to this guideline.

How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Get Into Your Milk?

It takes about half an hour after your first sip before the alcohol enters your breastmilk. This means having a drink just before or even while breastfeeding would most likely be safe. In most cases, eating before or while drinking will also limit how quickly and strongly the alcohol impacts you—and your breast milk. Once alcohol is in your blood, it's also in your milk. Of course, a weaker drink (or having fewer drinks) will mean less alcohol in your system. A good rule of thumb is if you feel the effects of alcohol, your baby will, too.

Make sure you aren't still feeling the effects of your drink before you nurse. If you are impaired by alcohol, it's in your milk and can affect your baby as well. Waiting an hour or two more will give your body time to remove the alcohol from your milk.

How Long Does Alcohol Remain in Your Breastmilk?

Alcohol leaves your milk at about the same rate it does from your blood. As a result, you will have alcohol in your milk as long as you have it in your blood. You can follow the same guideline you might use for determining if you're safe to drive after drinking when thinking about if your milk is safe for nursing.

The length of this process will vary based on how quickly your individual body metabolizes (or gets rid of) alcohol and how much you've consumed. Factors that influence this process include body weight, body fat percentage, age, genetic factors, the time between drinks, medications you take, and the alcohol content of the drink or drinks.

That's a lot to consider. To simplify, most experts suggest waiting two to three hours after drinking to be safe—longer if you have had enough to drink that you feel drunk.

If you feel clear-headed, your milk is likely in the clear as well.

How Does Pumping and Dumping Work?

Drinking does not permanently contaminate your breastmilk. Once your body has metabolized the alcohol and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is back to normal, the alcohol is also out of your milk. The longer you wait to nurse after drinking, the lower the concentration of alcohol in the milk will be, meaning that you only need to pump and dump if you are going to miss nursing sessions and want to keep up your supply or need to relieve engorgement.

Otherwise, you can just wait for the recommended two to three hours after drinking and then nurse or pump (and save the milk) as usual. Alternatively, you can nurse or pump ​right before you drink. If you pump beforehand, you get the added benefit of having milk on hand to feed your baby at the next feeding. This way, if your baby needs to nurse but you still have alcohol in your system, you'll have a fresh bottle to give them.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Baby?

Another important consideration, according to La Leche League International, is your baby's age. A 2-month-old baby, for example, has very limited liver function and can only process alcohol at about half the rate of an adult. This means that even a small amount of alcohol could tax the baby's liver. However, at around 3 months of age and older, an infant can process alcohol more effectively and the impact of residual amounts of alcohol in breastmilk will be minimal.

The bottom line is as long as you aren't regularly drinking more than one or two drinks per day—or getting drunk—and then nursing your baby, the occasional beer with your pizza or glass of wine with your bubble bath doesn't have to be avoided like the plague. The optimal strategy is to follow your gut on what's right for you and your baby. If you decide to indulge in a few drinks, simply make a plan for nursing that ensures the milk your baby gets has as low an alcohol concentration (with zero being ideal) as possible.

A Word From Verywell

If you're concerned about drinking while breastfeeding, check with your doctor for guidance on the safe amounts for your particular situation. By and large, drinking while nursing is perfectly fine in limited quantities. In fact, many women report that the occasional beer or glass of wine helps them wind down.

The key is to pay attention to the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed. A drink here or there is likely not an issue but nursing while drunk is definitely not recommended. "Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all," says Dr. Jack Newman, author of "The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers." "Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers." We'll drink to that—in moderation, of course.

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