Written by: Wendy, IBCLC.
It is well known that alcohol and pregnancy do not mix. All major health organizations advise against drinking at all during pregnancy, as doing so can lead to serious health issues for developing babies, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. But what about after your baby is born, and what if you are breastfeeding?
Many breastfeeding moms want to know it’s okay to pour a glass of wine after a long day or meet their friend for a beer. And yet, when they try to search for breastfeeding and drinking information, they are liable to get mixed signals. Is breastfeeding and alcohol consumption okay or not?
IS DRINKING WHILE BREASTFEEDING SAFE?
The answer is that yes, it is likely safe, but only under certain circumstances and when approached in the right way.
Before we discuss this, it’s essential to understand that alcohol does get into your breast milk and can affect your baby and your breastfeeding experience. According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), babies who have consumed breast milk after alcohol consumption may be sleepier or have psychomotor issues. Moms can have delayed letdowns as well. While the long-term effects of alcohol and breastfeeding are not known at this time, there are concerns about repeated and extensive exposure to alcohol for breastfed infants.
Because of the known and unknown effects alcohol can have on babies, organizations like the Academy Of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommend against drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. However, even organizations that advise against it do not rule out the possibility of consuming alcohol by breastfeeding moms if done carefully as to minimize a baby’s exposure to alcohol in milk. This includes the AAP, which has guidelines on safer alcohol consumption by breastfeeding moms (we’ll get to that in a sec!).
As the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine points out, half of all breastfeeding moms who live in Western countries partake in occasional alcohol consumption, so it’s more a matter of how to ensure you are consuming alcohol in a safe, measured way, not necessarily a strict prohibition of it altogether.
As in all cases, though, you should run this by your doctor, especially if you are breastfeeding a vulnerable child like a preterm baby or a baby with a medical issue.
THE BALANCED APPROACH
As with alcohol consumption in general, it’s all about moderation. In general, having one drink now and then is likely not an issue if you are a breastfeeding mom. In other words, having the equivalent of one serving of beer or wine once a month, once a week, or even several times a week isn’t likely to have much of an impact on your baby. However, drinking daily, or drinking large amounts frequently, might be ill-advised.
Timing is important too. The level of alcohol in your milk is similar to your blood alcohol levels. As LactMed points out, alcohol will peak in your milk about 30-60 minutes after drinking. Both LactMed and the AAP recommend waiting about 2 hours after drinking to breastfeed your baby, as this gives enough time for the majority of the alcohol to clear your system.
ISSUES WITH THE PUMP AND DUMP METHOD
What about pumping and dumping? Pumping your milk out will not speed up the rate at which the alcohol leaves your milk. So if you feel engorged and want to empty your breasts, you can do so, but it’s not necessary.
It’s also important to consider your ability to care for your infant while breastfeeding. If you are intoxicated and unable to care properly for your baby, you will need to make sure there are others around who can do so. If you know that you will likely be under the influence of alcohol at a future date, you can pump some milk for your baby beforehand and ensure a caretaker is available to help.
HEAVY DRINKING WHILE BREASTFEEDING
What if you wish to consume more than one drink at once and get drunk? That’s okay to do at times while you are a nursing mom. However, in those cases, you will need to wait the necessary time for the alcohol to leave your system before breastfeeding or feeding this pumped milk to your child. Again, that will be about 2 hours per drink.
But, as the CDC explains, this is cumulative. For example, if you consumed three drinks, you will need to wait about 6-8 hours before breastfeeding. Remember, too, that the more your drink, the more likely you will need to set up alternative care for your child.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sometimes it can seem like there are so many rules when you are breastfeeding, and it may feel like many things are off-limits. The truth is, most things can be consumed by breastfeeding moms, including alcohol. It’s just a matter of doing it mindfully and armed with good information.
So yes, you can sometimes pour yourself that glass of well-earned chardonnay at the end of your long day or meet your bestie for drinks on occasion. Just do it smartly. You’ve got this, mama.