Can I drink alcohol and breastfeed?

mums in kitchen with baby

by Geraldine Bauer |
Published on

You’ve given up alcohol for nine long months and now your beautiful baby is finally here, time to celebrate with a glass of wine?! Having no more than one drinkwon't harm your breastfed baby, but there are other factors that you may want to consider. Before you wet the baby’s head, let’s see what the experts have to say.

Can alcohol be passed on to my baby?

The level of alcohol in your breast milk closely represents the level of alcohol in your bloodstream. For alcohol to cause sedation in your baby, your blood alcohol levels must reach 300mg/100ml. To put things into perspective, a level of 80mg/100ml is required to fail a police breath test in England.

The amount of alcohol you consume has a direct impact on how long it stays in your bloodstream. While only one serving of alcohol would take two to three hours to leave your system, four servings could take between nine and ten hours. The alcohol level in your bloodstream peaks approximately 30- 60 minutes after drinking, or 60-90 minutes if you have your drink with a meal.

This information is relevant when you are planning to have a drink around your baby's feeding windows. New mums who are experiencing cluster feeding might feel like this is an impossible task, but you will find it easier to predict feeding times as your baby gets older.

What impact does alcohol have on my baby?

Several studies have investigated the negative impact alcohol can have on your baby. Increased crying, arousal, and sleep disturbances were some of the short-term side effects observed in babies whose mothers drank a moderate amount of alcohol. Long-term side effects included impaired motor and cognitive development as well as weakened immune function.

The age and health of your baby also plays a role in how much alcohol can affect them. Newborns can only metabolise alcohol at 25-50% the rates of adults, due to their undeveloped livers. If your baby has any underlying health conditions, it is worth checking with your doctor before having a drink.

Due to the severity of these effects, mothers with regular, excessive alcohol intake are also advised to consult with a doctor to find the best feeding solution for the baby.

What if I pump and dump?

Contrary to popular belief, the pump and dump method does not help with reducing the level of alcohol in your breast milk. This is because it cannot remove alcohol from your bloodstream, only time can do this. However, pumping to relieve engorged or uncomfortable breasts, is advised for your comfort.

Will drinking alcohol affect my milk production?

Experts are working hard to bust the myth that alcohol will improve a Mama's milk production because it has the opposite effect. Mennella et al. found that consumption of alcohol, even in small amounts, can decrease milk production and affect your milk ejection reflex. This might be something to watch out for, particularly if your baby has any issues surrounding weight gain.

What do the experts say?

Preparation is key to being able to enjoy a small amount of alcohol while breastfeeding. Dr Jack Newman, author of More Breastfeeding Myths, states " Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all... Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers… "

We hope this gives you some clarity on the acceptable alcohol limit whilst breastfeeding. There are some negative and potentially dangerous implications from consuming excessive amounts of alcohol whilst breastfeeding. To avoid these implications, wait until your baby is at least 8 weeks old, stay within the recommended limits, and wait at least 2 hours after drinking before feeding your baby - so you can minimise these risks significantly.

Geraldine Bauer is a registered nurse specialising in oncology and palliative care. She is a mum of two children (aged 5 and 2) and spends most of her time balancing her passions and enjoying time with her family. As a freelance journalist, she specialises in health and wellness, fitness, and all things motherhood.

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