Alcohol and breastfeeding: Is your child in danger?

Emmy Samtani

Emmy Samtani

Emmy is the founder of Kiindred and mother to 3 little ones. Over the last 4 years, she has worked with some of the most credible experts in the parenting space and is a keen contributor on all things parenthood.
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 5 mins read
Alcohol and breastfeeding: Is your child in danger?

So you’ve spent 9 months growing your baby, and have limited yourself to drinking a glass of wine on the rare occasion, to no alcohol (depending on your personal choice). After the birth of your precious newborn, you may like to have a celebratory champagne, or a glass of red to wind down after a long day on the run. But is it safe to drink alcohol whilst breastfeeding?  

Breastfeeding mothers often receive conflicting advice about whether drinking alcohol can have an effect on their baby. Though there has been adequate studies to show that drinking whilst pregnant can cause damage to an unborn baby, there is less information out there regarding breastfeeding and alcohol. I guess this is because no one truly know just how much is passed through your breastmilk to your baby.

Although the safest option whilst breastfeeding would be to stick to water, there may be situations where you want to enjoy a glass of wine or champagne.

If your personal choice is to go ahead and have that social beverage, then here is what you need to know.

The key is to plan ahead. Some recommend breastfeeding right before the toast at a wedding, or before you sit down to family dinner. This way you will maximise the amount of time between having your drink and your baby wanting to nurse again. There are many ways to make it work, you just have consider your specific circumstances ahead of time and plan accordingly.

How long does alcohol stay in your system / breastmilk

First let’s start with how your body absorbs alcohol. After drinking, alcohol goes straight to the stomach and small intestine, where the blood vessels absorb it into the bloodstream. Eventually, it travels to the liver, where enzymes break it down. Any ‘extra’ alcohol that our systems can’t break down straight away, accumulates in the blood and body tissues until the liver can process it. From there, the accumulation of alcohol in your bloodstream can pass through to your breast milk.

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, alcohol will stay in your breastmilk 30-60 minutes after you start drinking. There are a number of factors that can affect how much alcohol gets into your breast milk.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • The strength and amount of alcohol in your drink
  • What and how much you’ve eaten
  • How much you weigh
  • How quickly you are drinking

As a general rule, it takes 2 hours for an average woman to get rid of the alcohol from 1 standard alcoholic drink and therefore 4 hours for 2 drinks, 6 hours for 3 drinks and so on. The time is taken from the start of drinking.

Remember, the only thing that will reduce the amount of alcohol in your breast milk, is time. There are no quick fixes to speed up the process, and taking the risk is not worth it.

How could alcohol in breastmilk effect my baby?

Large amounts of alcohol via mother’s milk can cause drowsiness, weakness, growth defects and other health issues in babies. A newborn baby (less than a month old) will have trouble digesting any amount of alcohol. As a newborn’s feeding pattern is also quite irregular, it will be hard for you to accurately monitor the time between one feed and the next. A few studies also suggest that drinking while breastfeeding might impact your baby’s sleep.

The research on the effects of drinking while breastfeeding on babies is limited, so it’s hard to definitively say whether or not there are any short or long-term consequences. That being said, it’s always better to be safe when it comes to substances that have the potential to harm your baby in any way. Whilst a baby will be exposed to only a fraction of what the mother ingests, they can process alcohol at only half the rate that adults do in their first weeks of life.

How to safely monitor your alcohol intake whilst breastfeeding

If you are planning on having a few drinks, expressing milk in advance to bottle feed your baby is a good option so that your baby doesn’t miss a feed. Keep in mind, if your baby has never taken a bottle before, it might be worth practicing prior to your event.

What does it mean to ‘pump and dump’?

If you’ve been doing your research on how to breastfeed and engage in a social drink, you may have heard of ‘pumping and dumping’. To pump and dump means to pump or express breastmilk if you have been drinking, and then to immediately dump it (down the drain) instead of saving it for your baby.

It is important to note: Pumping and dumping doesn’t decrease your blood alcohol level any faster, and the milk you produce the next time won’t be free of alcohol unless you have waited the time required for it to leave your system.

Pump and dump can be used if you miss a feed, and your breasts become engorged whilst you’re affected by alcohol. If this happens, pump and dump is a good solution to be rid of the excess milk that is causing you discomfort.

Keep in mind, alcohol may also decrease the level of breast milk you are able to produce. So if you’re having one too many, it is possible that it could be the reason you are struggling with your milk supply.

A note on excessive alcohol consumption

If large amounts of alcohol is regularly being consumed, this could seriously harm the development of your baby. If you have any doubts about your alcohol consumption, it is important for you to consult a health professional to support you through these challenges. Drinking to the point of intoxication whilst breast feeding is extremely dangerous for both mother and baby. It will also impair your judgement, and ability to safely care for an infant. If this is the case, you should arrange for a sober adult to care of your child during this time.

In short, if you want to have the occasional drink but are concerned about the effect it has on your baby – expressed breastmilk can be stored for use on the occasion. Alternatively, you can wait for the alcohol to clear from your system. But remember, there is no set time per person for this to happen and it’s important to understand your body before ‘guessing’ these timings.

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