Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Some women are curious about whether they can drink alcohol while they are breastfeeding. While women are strongly advised to avoid drinking any alcohol during pregnancy, the recommendations on whether a woman can drink while breastfeeding are less defined and more controversial.
New mothers often receive conflicting information about the amount of alcohol that is considered safe to drink while breastfeeding. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 standard drink per day) by a breastfeeding mother is not known to be harmful to the baby (especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours before nursing).1
If a woman does drink alcohol, she can follow practices such as planning ahead and monitoring her blood alcohol content (BAC). It is important for women to take these necessary steps to prevent harming their child with alcohol-containing milk. Studies have demonstrated that infants who consume alcohol-containing milk may experience problems with:1, 2
- Sleep patterns
- The baby’s milk intake
- Early learning
Does Alcohol Transfer to Breast Milk?
When a woman drinks alcohol, a percentage of the alcohol is passed into her breast milk. If a woman has been drinking alcohol, her milk will contain similar levels of alcohol to that of her BAC. If there is alcohol in the mother’s blood, the milk will also contain alcohol.1
The peak alcohol levels in a mother’s blood and breast milk occur within 30 minutes to 1 hour of consuming the last drink. After this time, there are differences in how long it takes for a woman’s body to eliminate the alcohol.1 These differences may include weight, food intake, and how fast the alcohol was consumed.1
To prevent harmful effects to the baby, a mother’s consumption of alcohol should be minimized and limited to occasional intake (up to 1 standard drink per day). For a woman, this is approximately:3
- 5 ounces of liquor.
- 5 ounces of wine.
- 12 ounces of beer.
Women who are breastfeeding should not breastfeed for at least 2 hours after drinking to minimize the concentration of alcohol in the milk.1
What Is “Pumping and Dumping”?
You may have heard of women pumping their breast milk and discarding it to get the alcohol out of the breast milk quickly—also known as “pumping and dumping.”
This practice does not speed the removal of alcohol from the breast milk. Rather, it may be used to get rid of alcohol-laden milk when the mother needs to express her milk so she doesn’t use it to feed.
Time it Takes to Eliminate Alcohol from Breast Milk
Alcohol from breast milk gets eliminated over time. This chart helps graph the time it takes for alcohol to clear out of your system. For example:
- If you are a 145-pound woman and you consumed 3 drinks in 1 hour, it will take roughly 7 hours for your breast milk to be completely alcohol-free.
- If you are a 185-pound woman, it will take approximately 6 hours.
If you’re worried about the amount of alcohol in your breast milk, there are products on the market that allow you to test your current levels.
Does Alcohol in Breast Milk Harm the Baby?
Studies find that breastfed infants consume approximately 20% less milk in the first 4 hours following their mothers’ consumption of alcohol.4 This decrease in milk intake is not due to shorter feeding times or an alteration of the milk’s flavor. It is attributable to the reduced amount of milk that a woman’s body produces after consuming alcohol. Although babies consume less milk after the mother has consumed alcohol, the mothers are often unaware of the difference.4
A mother’s regular alcohol consumption while breastfeeding can have other harmful effects on a newborn, such as altering infants’:2
- Sleep patterns: Small changes in babies’ sleep patterns have been noted in research studies. Studies have found that babies slept for significantly shorter periods of time after drinking milk from a mother who has consumed an alcoholic beverage—decreasing the amount of time the babies spent in the active (REM) sleep cycles.
- Motor development: A study following children from in utero to 1 year of age found that children born to women with high alcohol intake during breastfeeding had lower scores on psychomotor development tests. However, a later study was unable to reproduce these findings.
Breastfeeding and alcohol consumption is not as well researched as pregnancy and alcohol consumption. While significant alcohol use during pregnancy produces negative effects like fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol use among breastfeeding mothers produces more mixed results.5
However, as noted, there are links between alcohol use during breastfeeding and effects on infants’ sleep, quantity of milk consumption, and psychomotor development. Alcohol-containing milk can potentially harm breastfeeding infants, and there are ways to reduce incidences of this or prevent it from occurring.
Does Alcohol Help Breast Milk Production?
You might have heard from your grandmother, neighbor, or on an internet forum that alcohol helps increase your milk supply. However, research shows that when babies are given alcohol-containing milk, they can have trouble breastfeeding and may experience altered feeding patterns.6
This can contribute to a decreased milk supply. Here’s why: two pituitary hormones are primarily responsible for controlling the process of breastfeeding—prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin, specifically, stimulates milk production, while oxytocin works to contract the muscles around the mammary tissue to release milk from the breast.4
When babies feed less, less prolactin gets released. Prolactin is released when the baby is sucking at the breast. This release sends a signal to the body to create new milk before the next feeding. The amount of prolactin that is released depends on the baby’s level of sucking, so if your baby begins feeding/sucking less, you will produce a lowered amount of prolactin. Less prolactin signals to your body that you need less milk–decreasing your overall supply.2
Research has also found that alcohol may also inhibit oxytocin (depending on the dose ingested), further decreasing the milk yield and the inability of the baby to feed. This means that drinking alcohol while lactating decreases the amount of milk your body produces.4, 6
Can I Safely Drink While Breastfeeding?
You might still be wondering: can I drink at all while I am breastfeeding? The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that the safest route is to not drink and breastfeed.2
However, if you plan to consume alcohol while lactating, here are some tips that will help you plan:
- Consider the timing of when you drink.Don’t breastfeed your baby while you are drinking or soon after you have stopped drinking. It is best to wait several hours after you have stopped drinking. Your body needs time to eliminate all alcohol in your blood and milk. You can refer to the graph above to see how long your body would take to eliminate alcohol according to your weight and number of drinks consumed.
- Pump and store your milk before you drink. If you know you are going to have a drink, you can pump your breast milk beforehand and keep it in a bottle. Your baby can drink the unaltered milk from the bottle while you wait for the alcohol to be eliminated from your breast milk.
Another option is to feed your baby formula. However, it is important to keep in mind that if you have a few drinks, it does not mean that you should stop breastfeeding altogether. Breast milk is the optimal way to feed a newborn. If you stop breastfeeding, your baby will miss out on vital nutrients that are crucial to their development.
Many women resume drinking after the birth of their child. Approximately half of women who breastfeed in Western countries report drinking alcohol—at least occasionally.5 The important thing is to be cognizant about your alcohol intake and avoid feeding alcohol-laden milk to your baby. Understanding timing and how alcohol transfers to your milk and the potential effects it can have on your child is vital to the health and well-being of your baby.
Addicted to Alcohol?
Even when newborn babies aren’t part of the equation, alcohol addiction is highly stigmatized. Most people don’t feel like they can tell their doctor or family about their dependence on alcohol. They might feel ashamed and hide using alcohol from others. Remember, there are numerous options to help you recover from alcohol addiction.
If you find yourself unable to stop drinking, you may want to consider seeking help for an addiction to alcohol. There are options for addiction recovery, such as:
- Inpatient treatment: These facilities require that you live at the treatment facility for the duration of the program. These centers offer 24/7 access to medical care, and some offer detox services, which is especially important for those experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
- Outpatient treatment: Those being treated on an outpatient basis travel to the clinic or treatment center for up to several hours a day for several days a week to meet for substance abuse therapy and treatment. Outpatient care is often more affordable than inpatient treatment. These facilities also offer you the flexibility of living at home while actively working towards recovery. If you are a new mother, this might be a good option for you.
- 12-Step groups: There are numerous groups that offer a structured space to help you on your road to recovery. Groups such as Women For Sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous are good places to start. These groups match you with a sponsor who helps keep you accountable on your journey toward a life without alcohol.
Fortunately, treatment for alcohol abuse is widely available. If you need assistance finding options for alcohol misuse treatment, give us a call today to speak with a trained rehab placement specialist on our helpline. You can contact us for free at and begin recovering from alcohol misuse today. You can also check your insurance coverage online now.
Regardless of where you are on your journey to reducing or stopping your alcohol consumption, there is support available. By understanding the risks of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding and taking steps to eliminate these risks, you are making your child’s health a priority.