Breastfeeding recommendations are here to stay. However, we are continuing to be met with so many policies and standards that make it nearly impossible to feel like we can succeed in doing so. So many parents I meet with tell me, “I can’t wait to be able to have my glass of wine after my baby is born!” During pregnancy, it is not advised to consume any alcohol as the alcohol passes directly through the placenta and to the fetus.5 Which could cause many health issues that are collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Meaning of course parent’s will wait to indulge once it is safe to do so! However, does that mean we have to wait until we are done breastfeeding to indulge?
Is it safe to provide breastmilk after drinking alcohol?
Is it safe to consume alcohol if you are lactating? It is a valid question. Especially after months of having to be extremely cautious about taking medications due to the likely transfer via the placenta to your baby. The good news is, once your baby is born- this process works differently.
Alcohol in your Bloodstream
When drinking alcohol, there is a small percentage that is absorbed via the stomach then the rest is through your small intestine.6 Once absorbed, it goes through your bloodstream and travels throughout your body having various effects. This level can be measured as Blood Alcohol Content or BAC. Your body will break down or metabolize the alcohol over time- but there are a variety of factors that can affect this.7 These factors include:
- Stomach contents
- Individual metabolic rate
- Type of alcohol consuming
- Any medications that you may be taking6
The liver is the main organ that metabolizes the alcohol. To process the alcohol, the liver oxidizes it into carbon monoxide. However, your liver can only process about one unit of alcohol an hour. Meaning alcohol can take multiple passes through your body to be fully metabolized.7
Alcohol Entering Your Breastmilk
Did you know that your breastmilk is created from nutrients in your bloodstream? NOT the contents of your stomach! When you ingest anything your body metabolizes it and breaks it down into smaller pieces (molecules) which are then transported to various parts of your body for use. When traveling through your breasts, your milk glands have cell walls that can block some of the larger molecules from passing (which is why some medications are safe- they physically CANNOT pass through to breastmilk). However, alcohol is not one of them. Alcohol can pass through your bloodstream and into your milk. This amount is very similar to your BAC. It is notable to say, only about 2% of what is consumed by the parent is transferred into breastmilk.3
That being said, the alcohol present in your breastmilk does peak and fall the same way your BAC would. The peak time is typically about 30-60 minutes after the drink is consumed, but could take as long as 60-90 minutes. If you should choose to drink- its best to wait about 2 hours.1
The only way to decrease BAC is time. Same for breastmilk. This means no amount of pumping and dumping will remove alcohol from breastmilk. You just have to wait it out. If during the time you are waiting it out you feel engorged or it is your normal time to feed or express- go ahead and do so! You can always put this milk aside in the freezer and mark it for other uses. You can use it for things like breastmilk jewelry, milk baths, making breastmilk lotion- anything that isn't going to be ingested. There are test strips available to test for alcohol- but honestly- I’d save your money! They can be unreliable and inaccurate.
I heard beer can increase my supply- is that true?
Now that you are in the know of how alcohol enters and leaves the breast milk- lets address some old wives tales about alcohol increasing supply. This belief may stem from the barley and hops used to make beer. They can help boost prolactin levels in the parent. However, the use of alcohol actually inhibits the milk ejection reflex!1
Effects on Baby
To ensure you have all of the facts before you make a decision- let's talk about the concerns for the baby when the lactating parent is consuming alcohol. Consuming alcohol and then breastfeeding can cause a disruption or change in the wake and resting periods that baby has. There can also be an effect on the amount your baby removes or eats after you consume alcohol. This may not be noticeable- though noteworthy for consideration. Studies also show that weight gain may be slowed with regular consumption of alcohol. As well as having an effect on gross motor development, causing delays.3
Making a Decision
Looking at the CDC website- the first sentence is “Not drinking alcohol is the safest
option for breastfeeding mothers.”2 We all know that parenting is not black and white. Making these decisions has multiple factors that need to be considered. Each situation is different. You should not feel judged when making a decision either way. I would hate for such black and white recommendations to deter you from wanting or continuing to breastfeed. I hope you use this information along with your personal situation to make a decision.
- Consider the age of your baby: younger babies have immature livers that will have a more difficult time processing alcohol. At about 3 months is when they become more efficient.4
- If you are safe to drive, you are safe to feed
- Consider the amount of alcohol you are consuming and the frequency of consumption
- Moderation is key
If you do indulge in some alcoholic beverages- as a provider, my biggest concern is your ability to care for your baby. So make sure that you have back up! You should never share sleep surfaces if you have ingested alcohol or taken any kind of medication or drug that will affect your mental capacity or make you drowsy.
1“Alcohol.” PubMed, National Library of Medicine (US), 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501469/.
2Alcohol . 2019, www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html.
3“Alcohol’ S Effect on Lactation.” Pubs.niaaa.nih.gov, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-3/230-234.htm#:~:text=When%20a%20lactating%20woman%20consumes.
4“Breastfeeding and Alcohol • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 28 Nov. 2019, kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/lifestyle/alcohol/.
5“Pregnancy and Alcohol | Nidirect.” Www.nidirect.gov.uk, 13 Oct. 2017, www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/pregnancy-and-alcohol#:~:text=The%20alcohol%20passes%20from%20your.
6“What Happens When You Drink Alcohol | Nidirect.” Www.nidirect.gov.uk, 12 Oct. 2017, www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/what-happens-when-you-drink-alcohol#:~:text=You%20absorb%2020%20per%20cent.
7Zakhari, Samir. “Overview: How Is Alcohol Metabolized by the Body?” Alcohol Research & Health, vol. 29, no. 4, 2006, pp. 245–254, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6527027/.