Cheers! Can a breastfeeding mom safely have a drink?

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

You’ve been a teetotaler during your pregnancy, but would really like to enjoy a glass of wine at your cousin’s wedding. Or you’re ready just to have a beer 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. Alcohol does pass into breastmilk, but it also passes back out pretty quickly and isn’t stored in the breastmilk.  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.

But how fast does alcohol clear put of your milk? Is it ok if there’s a little bit still in there?

There just hasn’t been enough research to establish a safe level of alcohol in breastmilk for babies to consume.  The best research currently suggests drinking in moderation is safe, especially if you take these measure to minimize your baby’s exposure:

*It’s best to limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per week and no 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 would be able to safely and legally drive, then you should be able to safely breastfeed.  If you’re even a little bit buzzed, it’s better to wait.

*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 this is a regular situation for you and 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 foods considered 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. Ironically, 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.

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!