Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
You have been a teetotaler during your pregnancy, but would really like to enjoy a glass of wine at your cousin’s wedding. You are breastfeeding your baby and have heard conflicting information about alcohol consumption. You just really want to know – is it safe?
No amount of alcohol is safe to drink while pregnant, but an occasional glass of wine or beer is fine while you are breastfeeding. Many mothers have heard that they need to “pump and dump” to get the alcohol out of their breasts. This isn’t necessary – alcohol clears your milk at the same rate it clears from your blood. As a general rule, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed your baby.
Alcohol does pass into breastmilk, but there has not been enough research to establish a safe level for babies to consume. Here are some tips to minimize your baby’s exposure:
*It’s best to limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per week and definitely not more than 1 drink per day. Beer, wine and hard cider are lower in alcohol than hard liquor and are the safer choice.
*Eating food at the same time lowers the absorption of alcohol in your blood.
*Breastfeed right before having a drink and then wait 2-3 hours before nursing again. Binge drinking is not recommended, but if you do plan to have several drinks, it will take longer to clear your milk. You may want to pump beforehand to have some expressed breast milk available if needed.
*Your weight affects how quickly you metabolize alcohol, so a larger woman may be able to nurse sooner after drinking than a smaller one. In the same way, an older baby or toddler can metabolize alcohol more quickly than a young infant.
*If you are separated from your baby for more than 2-3 hours, you may want to have a small pump handy to express milk. This may be needed for both your comfort and to keep up your milk supply, not to clear alcohol from your milk.
*If you are with your baby, be sure you are sober enough to care for him or her. If not, get someone to help. If you feel unable to limit your drinking, talk to your doctor or contact Alcoholics Anonymous.
You may have heard that drinking beer can increase your milk supply. Historically, beer was low in alcohol and brewed with a variety of galactagogues (foods and herbs reputed to increase milk supply). Most beers today have a higher alcohol content and do not contain the same levels of barley malt and hops. Alcohol has been shown to both decrease milk supply and interfere with the letdown reflex, although this is generally not a problem with occasional use. If you do drink beer, a dark European stout might be a good choice, since these tend to have the most galactogenic content – or you could look for a non-alcoholic beer that contains barley and hops.
Being a breastfeeding mom doesn’t mean you have to give up having an occasional drink. While you’re at it, toast yourself for giving your baby the best!