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Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding, Is It Safe?

Written by Hilary Hoogsteen

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. We’ve brushed up on the latest research and best practices and broken down all the details here for you.

You did it! You made it through nine (okay, let’s be honest… it’s more like ten) months of pregnancy, and now you’re more than ready to enjoy a glass of wine again. But waityou’re breastfeeding. When I was looking forward to enjoying my favourite drinks again after pregnancy, I didn’t give much thought to the fact that breastfeeding could pose a bit of a problem. Whether or not you can safely drink alcohol, and how much, while you’re breastfeeding can be a bit confusing.

Some women feel it is safer to avoid alcohol altogether, while other women feel like not drinking for the length of their pregnancy was long enough. (I have to admit, I was in camp number two). Not to mention, a glass of wine in the evening can be a nice way to wind down after a long day with a newborn. As someone who works at a craft brewery, I was personally looking forward to being able to enjoy a drink again after I gave birth, but of course wanted to make sure I was doing so in a way that was safe for my baby.

How Much Alcohol is Safe?

Alcohol passes into breast milk at concentrations similar to the bloodstream, so babies are only exposed to a fraction of the alcohol consumed by the mother. That said, exposure to alcohol for infants, even in very moderate levels, can lead to impaired motor development, changes in sleep patterns, decrease in milk intake, and risk of hypoglycemia. As we all want the absolute best for our babes, it is important to time your alcohol consumption with breastfeeding so that your baby isn’t exposed to alcohol through the breast milk.

Does Alcohol Increase Supply?

Many people (especially brewers at my work) were quick to tell me that certain types of alcohol, such as dark beers can increase your milk supply. While there may be some truth to the fact that beer increases your supply and enhances the flavour, research shows that alcohol content in the milk decreases infant consumption by up to 23%. So, drinking beer for the purpose of getting your baby to eat more isn’t really an effective strategy.

Time Your Feeds

To limit exposure to your baby, drink alcohol after breastfeeding rather than before and limit consumption to one or two drinks. Only time will remove the alcohol from your breast milk, so plan accordingly. The idea that “pumping and dumping” would effectively rid your milk of alcohol was a commonly believed myth for a long time, but discarding milk will not remove the alcohol from your system without the proper amount of time elapsing after drinking.

MotherRisk developed a table to help you determine how long you need to wait after a specific number of drinks, depending on your weight. For example, for a mother that weighs 130lbs, you would need to wait 2 hours 24 minutes before breastfeeding after having one drink. So, if your baby is still eating every 45 minutes, consider storing some milk ahead of time so you can give them a bottle for a feed or two while your breast milk still contains alcohol. By carefully planning and timing your feeds, you can enjoy a drink while ensuring your baby isn’t exposed to any alcohol.

Plan Ahead for Nights Out

While drinking in moderation and timing feeds is a great solution for your average nightcap, what do you do when cousin Jenny’s wedding is coming up and you’re dying for a night out with more than a drink or two?

Plan ahead! Pre-pump enough milk and then some. You don’t want to have to make a gametime decision if you run out of milk and have a crying baby but know you haven’t waited long enough to breastfeed.

Secondly, be sure you plan for someone you trust to look after your baby until you’re completely sober.

Lastly, wear an outfit that you will be able to express milk periodically so you’re not uncomfortable and to maintain your milk supply. Nothing’s worse than feeling like you’re going to explode and being unable to get your dress off easily to pump. Skipping feeds without pumping or expressing milk can lead to a blocked duct, which anyone who has had one will tell you, you want to avoid at all cost.

There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy your favourite drinks again now that babe is earth-side, so long as you plan accordingly. Most importantly, be diligent in timing your feeds, keep careful track of how much alcohol you’ve consumed and plan ahead to replace regular feeds with stored milk or formula.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.