Breastfeeding & drinking alcohol guide: Is it safe?

This article provides information on the relationship between breastfeeding and drinking alcohol. It will include information on how much alcohol passes into breastmilk, the impact it can have on a breastfeeding infant, and the effects of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.

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Breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural way for mothers to nourish their infants, providing essential nutrients and antibodies.

However, concerns often arise about the consumption of alcohol while breastfeeding.

Mothers may wonder about the potential effects of alcohol on their breast milk, their baby’s health, and how to responsibly handle the situation.

This article aims to shed light on the impact of alcohol on a breastfeeding infant, including effects on milk supply, proper care for the baby, the quantity of alcohol in breast milk, and the effects of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.

What impact can alcohol have on a breastfeeding infant?

A newborn’s liver is immature and as such is more affected by alcohol than older children and adults.

In addition until the about 3 months old, infants metabolise alcohol at half the rate of adults.

However, alcohol consumed occasionally in low or moderate amounts in unlikely to harm your baby.

The NHS guidance is that all adults including breastfeeding women, shouldn’t exceed 14 units spread over a week. That is 9 small glasses of wine a week but note that ‘home’ glasses are normally larger than bar ones.

Effects on Mothers’ Milk Supply

One common concern among breastfeeding mothers is whether alcohol consumption affects their milk supply.

While there is limited scientific evidence linking moderate alcohol consumption to decreased milk production, excessive or chronic alcohol intake can disrupt lactation.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it can increase urine production and lead to dehydration.

Dehydration, in turn, may temporarily decrease milk supply. It’s crucial for breastfeeding mothers to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other non-alcoholic fluids to maintain an adequate milk supply.

Taking Care of Your Baby

When it comes to caring for a breastfeeding baby, responsible alcohol consumption is key.

The general recommendation is that if a mother chooses to drink alcohol, she should do so in moderation and plan accordingly.

Timing is crucial, as it takes approximately two hours for the body to metabolize one standard drink. Mothers can breastfeed before consuming alcohol, allowing ample time for it to clear from their system before the next feeding.

Alternatively, pumping and storing breast milk in advance can be a good option if mothers wish to have an occasional alcoholic drink.

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How much alcohol passes into breastmilk?

It’s important to understand that alcohol can pass into breast milk, potentially affecting a breastfeeding infant.

Research has shown that peak alcohol levels in breast milk occur about 30-60 minutes after consuming a drink.

However, the amount of alcohol a baby take in through breast milk is very small. The exact amount of alcohol depends on the mother’s weight, body composition, and the rate of alcohol metabolism but on average at it’s peak only 2-5% of the alcohol drunk by the mother will pass to the breastmilk.

Will expressing clear alcohol from my breast milk?

Many breastfeeding mothers wonder if they can express alcohol from their breast milk.

Unfortunately, pumping, drinking water, or engaging in other methods cannot speed up the removal of alcohol from breast milk.

The body’s metabolism is responsible for the elimination of alcohol, and it simply takes time.

The best course of action is to allow enough time for the alcohol to metabolize and clear from the body before breastfeeding or pumping milk for the baby.

What are the effects of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding?

Excessive alcohol consumption during breastfeeding can have adverse effects on both the mother and the baby.

It can affect the mother’s judgment and coordination, potentially putting her and the baby at risk. Which is why mother’s should never share a bed, armchair or sofa with their baby if they have been drinking.

Moreover, infants are more sensitive to alcohol’s effects due to their immature liver function, which makes it harder for them to metabolize alcohol.

Babies exposed to alcohol through breast milk may experience drowsiness, deep sleep, and impaired motor development.

Long-term exposure to high levels of alcohol can also disrupt the baby’s sleep patterns and hinder their overall development.

Final Thoughts

Breastfeeding mothers who choose to consume alcohol should do so responsibly and be aware of the potential impact on their breast milk and the baby.

Moderation is key, and timing plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and well-being of both the mother and the breastfeeding infant.

Understanding the effects of alcohol on milk supply, taking appropriate care of the baby, and allowing sufficient time for alcohol to clear from the body are important steps for responsible alcohol consumption while breastfeeding.

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  1. Lawrence, Ruth A., et al. “Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession.” 9th ed., Elsevier, 2015.
  2. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. “ABM Clinical Protocol #21: Guidelines for Breastfeeding and Substance Use or Substance Use Disorder, Revised 2015.” Breastfeeding Medicine, vol. 10, no. 3, 2015, pp. 135-141.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Metabolism: An Update.” Alcohol Alert, no. 35, 1997.
  4. Neifert, Marianne, and M. Douglas Jones. “The Use of Antidepressant Medication by Breastfeeding Mothers: Maternal and Infant Implications.” Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, vol. 11, no. 3, 2006, pp. 196-200.
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” Pediatrics, vol. 129, no. 3, 2012, pp. e827-e841.
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