Alcohol And Breastfeeding: Do They Go Together?

alcohol and breastfeeding

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Does the moratorium on alcohol continue beyond pregnancy? Your doctor must have told you to be away from alcohol for nine months. But if you are a lactating mother, you would want to know if you should continue to stay away from drinks to avoid any harm to the baby. Alcohol and breastfeeding do not seem to go together, but the thing is numerous factors decide the extent to which your baby is affected by the drinks you consume.

In this MomJunction post, we will tell you if it is fine to drink alcohol when you are breastfeeding, its adverse effects on the baby and how you can manage time between drinking and breastfeeding.

Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

You should avoid alcohol when breastfeeding as it finds its way from your bloodstream to the breast milk, thus impacting the baby’s health (1). You may have an occasional drink but not regularly, to save your baby from any negative effects.

Alcohol Can Have Adverse Effects:

Breastfeeding after drinking alcohol is clinically proven to have negative effects on the baby. For example, a study comprising 400 infants, with mothers that consumed at least one drink per day, displayed a discernible delay in the development of their motor skills (2).

The effect of alcohol is not just limited to motor skill development but can even influence a baby’s general well-being.

  1. Mothers who binge drink and breastfeed, or do so within an hour after a drink, have their babies fall asleep faster. Alcohol causes drowsiness in babies just like it does in adults, but the sleep caused by drowsiness is not healthy.
  1. Moreover, long-term exposure to alcohol can disrupt the baby’s sleep-wake cycle (3). One reason for this is the immature liver of the babies that cannot process alcohol as efficiently as adults’. Needless to say, alcohol and infants can never be on the same page.
  1. Some other studies have indicated chronic drowsiness and delayed physical growth among infants of lactating mothers who consumed alcohol regularly.
  1. In very rare instances, alcohol consumption by lactating mothers has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (4).

That is definitely scary and it is good to stay away from booze until your baby is not dependent on your breast milk anymore. But what about the occasions when you can’t skip alcohol?

[ Read : Foods To Avoid While Breastfeeding ]

Can I Have A Drink Occasionally?

Yes, you can but limit yourself to not more than two drinks. Having more than two drinks a day, on a regular basis, can cause the baby to develop weakness, drowsiness, and abnormal weight gain (5). The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is fine to have an occasional drink of not more than 0.5g per kg of the body weight of a woman (6) as the time taken to process the alcohol depends on her weight.

Therefore, to calculate the time interval between drinking and breastfeeding, you need to know the approximate weight of the woman and the number of drinks she consumed. You can get this information through an alcohol metabolism chart for lactating mothers of varying weight (7).

Time Chart For Alcohol Elimination In Breast Milk

Mother’s WeightNo. Of Drinks* (Hours : Minutes)
KG (lbs)123456789101112
40.8 (90)2:505:408:3011:2014:1017:0019:5122:41
43.1 (95)2:465:328:1911:0513:5216:3819:2522:11
45.4 (100)2:425:258:0810:5113:3416:1719:0021:43
47.6 (105)2:395:197:5810:3813:1815:5718:3721:1623:56
49.9 (110)2:365:127:4910:2513:0115:3818:1420:5023:27
52.2 (115)2:335:067:3910:1212:4615:1917:5220:2522:59
54.4 (120)2:305:007:3010:0012:3115:0117:3120:0122:32
56.7 (125)2:274:547:229:4912:1614:4417:1119:3822:06
59.0 (130)2:244:497:139:3812:0314:2716:5219:1621:41
61.2 (135)2:214:437:059:2711.4914:1116:3318:5521:1723.39
63.5 (140)2:194:386:589:1711:3713:5616:1518:3520:5423:14
65.8 (145)2:164:336:509:0711:2413:4115:5818:1520:3222:49
68.0 (150)2:144:296:438:5811:1213:2715:4117:5620:1022:25
70.3 (155)2:124:246:368:4811:0113:1315:2517:3719:4922:02
72.6 (160)2:104:206:308:4010:5013:0015:1017:2019:3021:4023:50
74.8 (165)2:074:156:238:3110:3912:4714:5417:0219:1021:1823.50
77.1 (170)2:054:116:178:2310:2812:3414:4016:4618:5120:5723:03
79.3 (175)2:034:076:118:1410:1812:2214:2616:2918:3320:3722:40
81.6 (180)2:014:036:058:0710:0812:1014:1216:1418:1520:1722:19
83.9 (185)1:593:595:597:599:5911:5913:5915:5917:5819:5821:5823:58
86.2 (190)1:583:565:547:529:5011:4813:4615:4417:4219:4021:3823:36
88.5 (195)1:563:525:487:449:4111:3713:3315:2917:2619:2221:1823:14
90.7 (200)1:543:495:437:389:3211:2713:2115:1617:1019:0520:5922:54
93.0 (205)1:523:455:387:319:2411:1713:0915:0216:5518:4820:4122:34
95.3 (210)1:513:425:337:249:1611:0712:5814:4916:4118:3220:2322:14

Source: beststart.org

This chart assumes that the woman is of the average height 1.62m or 5’4” and has a constant rate of alcohol metabolism of 15mg/dL. Also, one drink in this chart denotes 45ml of 40% alcoholic content (whiskey, vodka, rum or any other beverage) or 148ml of wine with 11% alcoholic content or 355ml of beer with 5% alcoholic content.

The time mentioned in the table denotes the total number of hours it would take for a woman’s breast milk to be completely free of alcohol. For example, a woman weighing 83.9 kg who had 12 drinks needs to wait 23 hours and 58 minutes (23:58) before she resumes breastfeeding. The half-life of alcohol in breast milk will thus be the midpoint of this time interval, which in the above example, would be approximately 12 hours.

Along with weight, the rate of alcohol elimination in the breast milk depends on the body’s general predisposition to metabolize and whether it was consumed with solid food (8). The presence of alcohol in breast milk peaks 30-60 minutes after consumption but it gets delayed to 60-90 minutes when the drink is consumed with solid food.

[ Read : Caffeine While Breastfeeding ]

How Much Alcohol Passes Through Breast Milk?

Generally, less than 2% of the alcohol volume consumed by a mother reaches her breast milk (9). But as long as there are traces of alcohol in the blood, the breast milk can carry the traces of alcohol. A constant or chronic alcohol weight of 300mg per 100ml of maternal blood can cause several long-term side effects in the baby.

On the brighter side, alcohol does not stay in the breast tissue. Once the body gets rid of alcohol, the breast milk is also free of it. Use the above-mentioned chart to determine the safe time to feed your baby after drinking.

Know the percentage of alcohol in the beverage you are drinking to determine the exact waiting time for the next feeding session.

Can I Feed My Baby Before Drinking?

Yes, you should ideally feed the baby before consuming alcohol. If your baby is not hungry, then express some milk to feed it to him later. Alternatively, you may use formula milk for one feeding.

If you think that you can express milk at the time of peak alcohol presence and dispose of it to free your breast milk of the alcoholic content, then it won’t be of any help. Your breast milk will continue to have traces of alcohol as long as the drink is present in your body (10). Therefore, wait until you are sober before feeding your baby.

[ Read : Energy Drinks While Breastfeeding ]

Can Alcohol Affect The Milk Supply?

The effect of alcohol on the milk supply is complicated. While it does increase prolactin (the hormone that stimulates milk production), it does so for a limited period (11). However, it inhibits the production of oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates the flow of milk out of the nipple. This makes the baby ingest less milk. In fact, studies indicate that babies breastfed three to four hours after a drink feed 20% less than they would have fed if the mother had not consumed alcohol (12). What is alarming is the fact that alcohol will continue to suppress oxytocin even during the safe breastfeeding time interval after a drink.

Moreover, studies report that infants tend to suckle for lesser durations due to an altered taste of breast milk after the mother consumes alcohol.

In short, babies tend to consume less milk when you drink.

The effects of alcohol consumption on the baby’s health are conflicting (13). However, what is universally accepted is the fact that regular drinking while breastfeeding can adversely affect the baby both in the short and long-run. Therefore, abstaining from alcohol is the best option you have at least until the baby is exclusively fed on breast milk.

Do you have an interesting tidbit about your personal experience with alcohol consumption and breastfeeding? We would love to hear about it! Share it by leaving us a comment below.

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo took writing as a profession right after finishing his MBA in Marketing. Earlier he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany & Zoology from the autonomous St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Rohit has also done a Stanford University certification course on breastfeeding. This botanist-zoologist turned writer excels at life sciences, and at MomJunction he writes everything about pediatrics and maternal care. In between writing and being overly curious, he spends time cooking, reading, and playing video games. LinkedIn profile – linkedin.com/in/rohit-garoo-263115aa
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