Your baby’s in your arms and you’re officially a mom! Time to break out the champagne – or is it? It’s no secret that drinking during pregnancy is dangerous for developing babies, but what about when you’re nursing? Let’s go through the facts on alcohol while breastfeeding.
Is alcohol while breastfeeding safe?
All told, the safest option for nursing moms is to not drink. When you drink, alcohol could wind up in your breast milk in more or less the same concentration as in your bloodstream. When you nurse with spiked breast milk, your baby gets a dose of alcohol, too. Baby’s tiny liver can’t metabolize alcohol as well as yours, and excess exposure to alcohol can result in symptoms such as weakness, drowsiness and decreased growth.
When you’re affected by alcohol, your let-down reflex may be impaired, making it harder for your baby to feed. If you happen to get binge drink or get drunk, your ability to care for your baby is also impaired, and you’re at an increased risk of accidents like falls that could hurt you both. Your baby should always be in the care of a sober adult.
However, this doesn’t mean alcohol is strictly verboten for nursing moms. It’s not like the situation for pregnant moms, when alcohol passes to the fetus directly through the placenta. It is possible to drink responsibly and still nurse safely.
So can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
While not ideal, it’s still OK to drink in moderation while you’re breastfeeding. Moderate and occasional alcohol intake of the mother has little chance to harm the infant. The UK’s National Health Service puts the recommended upper limit for nursing mothers at 1 or 2 standard alcohol drinks once or twice a week.1
On the other hand, daily drinking and binge drinking are associated with poorer outcomes such and delayed growth, and may be dangerous for you and your baby’s health. If you think you need help to stop or cut back on drinking, speak to a doctor. You’re not alone, and help is available.
Tips for enjoying moderate alcohol and breastfeeding safely
If you choose to drink while your baby is still breastfeeding, there are tips for enjoying moderate alcohol and breastfeeding safely.
If you’re going to be at a setting where there’s alcohol, and you want to have a drink, plan for it ahead of time. Consider feeding your baby before you have a drink, so your milk will be alcohol-free. You may also want to express a feed or feeds of breast milk before you start drinking in case baby needs nursing while you’ve still got alcohol in your system.
Time clears alcohol from your system. If you have been drinking, you wait until at least 2 hours have passed since your last drink. Although your alcohol metabolism varies with factors such as your weight, what you drink and whether you’ve eaten, it generally takes about 2 hours for a healthy adult woman to process one standard alcohol drink.
In other words, if you had two drinks, expect to wait 4 hours for it to be gone from your system, 6 hours if you had three drinks, and so on.
Don’t pump and dump
You don’t need to “pump and dump” (express breast milk and then throw it away) before nursing again. Alcohol will not build up in your breasts. Once your blood alcohol level is back down to zero, so is the milk in your breasts.
You don’t need to pump after drinking for any other reason than your own comfort. (However, keep in mind that milk you express while affected by alcohol is still alcoholic and will not naturally decrease in alcohol content once it’s out of your body.)
Alcohol and breastfeeding are not incompatible in moderation
If you’re enjoying the occasional drink, you can still fit breastfeeding into your lifestyle without harming your baby. Moderate drinking is not incompatible with breastfeeding, provided you limit your intake and wait the recommended time for the alcohol to clear your system.
Many experts agree it’s OK to nurse again a minimum of 2 hours after drinking, once your alcohol level has dropped and feeling completely back to normal. However, if you’re unable to cut back on your alcohol intake, or you’re drinking to escape from other problems, speak to a doctor. Help is available, and you’re not alone.