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The baby has arrived, you are home and beginning to think you may have settled a little in to this new parent thing. You may even dare to think you are developing a bit of a routine. Your body is healing and your baby is thriving. Adult beverages have begun to sound appealing again. But how does drinking affect nursing? Does it show up in breast milk? What does it do to baby? What does it do to your supply? What problems might arise from drinking and nursing?
Does alcohol transfer into the breast milk?
Yes. If there is alcohol in mom’s blood stream, then there is alcohol in the breast milk. If baby drinks breast milk with alcohol in it, his liver has to process it, and his body will be affected by it. Babies’ livers are immature, therefore their ability to process alcohol and other toxins is diminished. (Their brains, nervous systems, and kidneys are all immature; therefore they are generally more susceptible to all toxins.)
Does alcohol affect baby?
Baby will have the same issues we do, but with a much lower amount of alcohol. So even a small amount of alcohol in breast milk can cause problems such as poor sleeping and poor eating (babies have been shown to get less milk from a feeding occurring within 4 hours of mom having a drink). Alcohol in breast milk may also lead to motor delay, although the research on this is conflicting. Prolonged or heavy use of alcohol in a breastfeeding mother would lead to much more severe health issues in a nursing baby.
If you can’t resist the urge to drink, or feel you may be drinking too much, please consult your health care provider. You may need help, and you may need to provide formula or donor milk instead of breastfeeding.
Does alcohol affect breast milk supply?
Contrary to popular belief, beer does not increase breast milk production (not even dark beer). In fact, alcohol ingestion may decrease supply. And as mentioned above, a baby nursing within 4 hours of mom having a drink may get less milk. (If you need help increasing your supply, see your health care provider. Supply can often be increased with the help of a lactation educator or consultant, and by taking certain herbs, foods, or pharmaceuticals.)
So what’s the bottom line?
Most experts agree that it is okay to have an occasional drink while nursing. But what is occasional? Is it okay to drink every day? Is it okay to drink more than one drink at a time? The details of this are not known with certainty. It’s difficult to study.
Some say limit drinking to special occasions, and some say no more than 1 or 2 times per week. Some say one small drink, and some say up to 2 glasses of wine or beer or one shot. Some say to wait until baby is 3 months of age. To further complicate the issue, there are additional variables: the age and metabolism of your baby, your own metabolism and ability to process alcohol and how much you have eaten with your beverage.
So what’s the bottom line? It’s probably okay to have one or two drinks on special occasions, or less than 2 times a week.
Ensure that you avoid breastfeeding your baby until you are sure you no longer feel affected by the alcohol. This may mean you have to provide formula or breastmilk you pumped before drinking. If you want more specifics, be sure to contact your health care provider.
Co-sleepers: Remember that you should never co-sleep after drinking alcohol.
A note on SIDS: People often sleep more soundly after alcohol ingestion, so you may not wake as quickly or as easily to baby’s noises.
I’m having a drink – how should I do it?
Have your drink just after you nurse or pump, then nurse or pump again once the alcohol is out of your blood stream. For one drink, it generally takes about 2 to 4 hours for alcohol to dissipate from your milk, BUT everyone is different. If you feel the effects of the alcohol, it is too early to feed (this is an argument for limiting yourself to 2 drinks at the most.) If baby is hungry before you feel ready to feed, give previously pumped milk or formula. Also, remember that alcohol and breastfeeding are dehydrating, so be sure you drink extra water to compensate.
Should I pump and dump?
Do NOT pump and dump. There is no need. Once alcohol is out of your blood, it is out of your milk. Pumping and dumping does not speed that process up. If you need to pump to relieve engorgement until the next feed, do dispose of that milk. But do not pump to try to get rid of alcohol.
Some words from the nostalgic mom
Remember that you will not breastfeed forever. You will also not be the parent of a baby forever. Before you know it you will have the time and freedom to drink and go out as you please. So try to savor the here and now, even when it means you are covered in spit up and drinking lactation tea. It will be gone before you know it.
- For a comprehensive review of the available science, see this article from the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Baby Center
- La Leche
 Mennella & Beauchamp 1991, 1993; Mennella 1997, 1999