Alcohol and Breastfeeding: Is it Safe? {Facts, Risks, and Effects}


Alcohol and Breastfeeding: Is It Safe? (Facts, Risks, and Effects)

Alcohol and breastfeeding is acceptable, but it is wise to carefully monitor how much you drink. Although little evidence shows that alcohol has significant effects on a newborn, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that you schedule the times you drink around breastfeeding. 

It is okay to drink alcohol during the breastfeeding months, but according to the CDC, it is safer to breastfeed your baby before or a few hours after you drink. How many hours you can nurse after drinking alcohol will depend on your alcohol intake and your metabolism. If you moderately drink, say one to two drinks per week, you will decrease the risk of side effects in your baby. Responsible drinking will foster your ability to care for your child. The less alcohol you drink, the more alert you will be to your baby’s needs. Newborns are not able to fight off infection because their immune systems are weaker. Breast milk contains antibodies that pass along to your infant. The antibodies build up in your baby’s body and help him or her fight germs and bacteria. Because alcohol hinders the flow of breast milk, drinking alcohol while breastfeeding lowers your baby’s ability to fight off infection.  Learn how to track your alcohol intake, how alcohol affects your baby when you drink while breastfeeding, and how to prevent your baby’s exposure to alcohol.

Can you Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

Can you drink wine while breastfeeding? Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should not be drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, but if you must drink, limit the amount of wine or beer you drink to one or two a week. When you drink in moderation, your baby will be at less risk of developing side effects. The alcohol level of your baby will be about the same as yours, and your baby’s body gets rid of the alcohol slower than you. That is why it is important to plan out your feeding times for the day, so you can avoid exposing your baby to alcohol.

Breastfeeding and Alcohol: The Effects of Drinking While Breastfeeding

The risks of harm to your newborn are minimal if you avoid breastfeeding after drinking. How much you drink will determine the best times to breastfeed.  It does not depend on the number of drinks spread out over a week, but also the amount you drink in one sitting. According to ABC News, the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, states a nursing mother should consume less than or equal to 0.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight. That measures approximately eight ounces of wine or two beers. Of course, the total amount of alcohol will vary per your individual body weight and your metabolism. 

Learning when to nurse is a key factor in protecting your baby from exposure. Making a feeding schedule around your drinking will help lower the risk of potential danger for your baby. For example, if you are finishing up feeding and you plan to feed your baby again in two hours, plan to drink just after feeding. Doing so will allow you time to metabolize the alcohol before you breastfeed again.  Short-term effects can occur with any amount of alcohol, but they are more common with larger amounts. Alcohol in breast milk could cause your baby to feel drowsy or sleep heavier, appear weak, or gain unexpected weight. Alcohol may weaken your milk-ejection reflex, which could affect how often you breastfeed. The milk-ejection reflex is what produces the flow of your milk.

Effects of Alcohol on Your Ability to Produce Breast Milk 

Alcohol can cause you to produce less breast milk. The decrease in milk let down will lower your baby’s intake of milk, which puts your baby at risk for nutritional deficiency. That alone may cause your baby to nurse more often, depending on what he or she needs. Alcohol can also alter the taste or smell of breast milk, which may affect how often or well your baby feeds. Alcohol inhibits oxytocin, a hormone that the pituitary gland secretes during pregnancy and lactation. When you drink alcohol,  it causes the oxytocin to release too much milk and potentially deplete you of the amount of milk your baby needs. Your baby may need to feed more often to get enough nutrition. Drinking in moderation will decrease the risk of malnutrition. 

Effects of Alcohol on Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding could cause your baby to sleep for shorter periods. Your baby’s REM sleep (non-active sleep) could extend from a few to twenty-four hours after you drink alcohol. Less active sleep can cause your baby to wake up more often and could affect how the baby’s brain develops.

Effects of Alcohol on Your Baby’s Activity

Your baby may startle easily, wake up more frequently, and cry more often due to a lack of sleep and nutrition. 

Effects of Alcohol on Your Baby’s Cognitive Development

Alcohol slows down the brain’s ability to function. Drinking while breastfeeding may lead to a decrease in cognitive development by the time your child reaches school age. The amount of alcohol you consume during the breastfeeding months influences how much the cognitive skills drop. 

Effects of Alcohol on Your Baby’s Motor Skills and Growth

Although there is not much research on how breastfeeding after drinking affects motor development and growth, there is a potential risk to your infant, depending on how much you drink. If you drink regularly, then breastfeed shortly after each drink, you increase the chances of a delay in your baby’s motor skills (physical movements involving arms and legs). Testing of infants’ growth and development may reveal lower scores. 

Effects of Alcohol on Your Baby’s Ability to Fight Infection

Your baby’s immune system does not fully develop until he or she gets older. Thus, the immune system is weaker than that of an adult. Alcohol can further impair your baby’s ability to fight off infection if you drink too much. Breast milk provides antibodies that build up in your baby’s body as he or she nurses. Since alcohol can decrease the amount of milk you produce, the number of antibodies drops. Your baby could be more vulnerable to illness. Breastfeeding first or waiting at least two hours after nursing will protect your baby’s immune system. 

Effects of Alcohol on Your Ability to Care for Your Baby

Something you may want to think about while drinking and breastfeeding is how it will affect your ability to care for your baby. Drinking could affect how you react when your baby is crying. Avoid sleeping with your baby to reduce the risk of rolling over on top of him or her or from suffocation due to too many covers. Alcohol can impair your judgment. 

How Long to Wait to Breastfeed After Drinking

You can be breastfeeding and drinking alcohol safely if you follow the recommended guidelines. Breastfeeding after drinking should wait for at least two hours because the alcohol stays in the milk as long as it stays in the mother. Pumping breast milk and then dumping it does not remove the alcohol.  If you want to test your breastmilk for alcohol you can use the Milkscreen test to detect alcohol in breastmilk. If you feel you may have to miss a feeding due to the amount of alcohol, consider pumping or expressing some breast milk, so you don’t engorge. 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breast Milk?

Thirty minutes to one hour is the typical peak time for alcohol to show up in breast milkThe length of time alcohol stays in the breast milk depends on how much you drink as well as your weight and your metabolism. If you have one drink, the alcohol will stay in your breast milk for about two to three hours. Alcohol from two drinks stays in breast milk for approximately four to five hours, and three drinks put alcohol in for around six to eight hours. The more you drink, the longer the alcohol stays. What kind of alcohol, how long it takes to consume it, and how much you weigh could also affect how long alcohol stays in your breast milk. 

Drinking and Breastfeeding: Key Takeaways

Can you drink beer while breastfeeding? The answer is yes, you can. However, you may want to remember when it is safe to drink and how long you should wait before nursing your baby. Use a breast milk alcohol test to track if your milk contains alcohol so that you can breastfeed your baby risk-free. One to three drinks will affect the amount of time you have to wait between feedings. Know what a safe limit is for drinking alcohol while breastfeeding and how drinking alcohol can affect your baby’s growth and motor skills, sleep patterns, milk intake, immunity, and cognitive development. 

Alcohol can affect how your baby fights off infection. Antibodies from you are present in your breast milk. Because alcohol decreases the amount of breast milk you produce, your baby will have less exposure to the antibodies in your milk. That alone may create a larger chance of your baby getting ill. Having a social life is probably important to you as a nursing mother. You can still engage in social drinking while breastfeeding as long as you drink responsibly. Remember to consider the type and amount of alcohol while breastfeeding and the time you drink, so you can ensure your baby is safe. If you are not sure how alcohol will affect you, have a responsible, sober adult care for your baby while you recover. Sleeping with your infant has the potential to cause injury to your baby. Risks of sleeping in the same bed with your baby may include accidental smothering or rolling onto your infant.

FAQs

If you still have a few questions about alcohol and breastfeeding, we've put together some of the most frequently asked questions to help you.

Does pumping breast milk after drinking reduce the alcohol level in the mother’s milk?

No. Pumping and dumping breast milk after drinking does not decrease the alcohol level because alcohol does not stay in the breast milk for very long. You should wait for the alcohol to leave your bloodstream before deciding to breastfeed. How much you drink dictates how long you should wait. 

Can you drink wine while breastfeeding?

Yes, you can. To avoid exposing your baby to alcohol, pump breast milk or breastfeed right before you drink, or at least two hours after you drink in cases where you follow the proper allowance amount. The next time you will be able to feed your baby will depend on the amount of alcohol you drink. 

Can you drink beer while breastfeeding?

Like wine, breastfeeding after drinking should wait until the alcohol clears your bloodstream. The variation in time will depend on how much alcohol you drink. Breastfeeding or pumping right before drinking wine or other alcohol will allow you to nurse your baby with alcohol-free milk.

How much alcohol actually gets in breast milk?

How much alcohol in breast milk really depends on the amount of alcohol you drink. Research reveals that about five to six percent of the alcohol in the mother’s bloodstream travels through the baby’s bloodstream. Babies eliminate alcohol roughly fifty percent slower than adult females. 

Can alcohol consumption increase breastmilk supply?

Alcohol actually decreases breast milk. The pituitary gland stimulates a hormone in pregnant and lactating women called oxytocin. Oxytocin induces contractions in a pregnant woman during labor and increases milk flow in mothers during breastfeeding. Alcohol decreases the level of oxytocin, which causes the mom to produce less milk for her baby.