Everyone knows that drinking during pregnancy is a big no-no, but what about breastfeeding?
Is one drink okay? Will a night on the town affect your little one?
When it comes to your baby’s health, you don’t want to take chances, but after 9 months sober, you may want to enjoy a glass of wine with friends.
In this post, we’re discussing alcohol’s effects on breastmilk and how much is considered okay. If you decide to have a few, we’ll let you know the steps you can take to safely feed your baby after.
Can You Drink While Breastfeeding?
It’s safest not to drink at all while breastfeeding. With that being said, there’s no known effects on breastmilk if you consume one standard drink per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One standard drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces of 5% beer
- 5 ounces of 12% wine
- 5 ounces of 40% alcohol
If you do decide to have a drink, it’s best to wait at least 2 hours before nursing.
Alcohol found in breastmilk is at its highest level 30-60 minutes after you have a drink but can be detected for about 3 hours after. However, the more alcohol you have, the longer it can be detected in breastmilk for. Here’s some general guidelines, according to the CDC:
- 1 drink can be detected for 2-3 hours
- 2 drinks can be detected for 4-5 hours
- 3 drinks can be detected for 6-8 hours
That means if you have 3 or more drinks in the evening, you can go to sleep and still wake up with alcohol-contaminated breastmilk. A night of heavy drinking will affect your breastmilk for additional hours, possibly the entire next day or longer.
Although these are general guidelines, the length of time it takes for alcohol to leave your system depends on other factors:
- How fast you drink
- Whether you’ve eaten and how much
- Your weight
- How fast it’s broken down in the body
How Drinking Affects Breastmilk
The risk of drinking while nursing isn’t as well researched as the risks it poses during pregnancy. However, what we know suggests that exposing your baby to alcohol levels above “moderate” through breastmilk could affect their growth and development. Some studies suggest that having 2 or more drinks per day while nursing can delay psychomotor skills.
According to La Leche League International, exposing a baby to alcohol can also cause:
- Deep sleep
- Abnormal weight gain
High levels can also affect the letdown reflex. This could eventually lead to your body making less breastmilk, shortening nursing sessions. Alcohol may also affect how much your baby typically eats. One study found that babies consumed significantly less milk in the 4 hours after alcohol exposure. But in the 8-16 hours after, babies seemingly compensated by drinking more.
Some mothers wonder if having a drink will help them relax enough to stimulate more breastmilk. However, no studies support this theory and since it can affect your baby’s feeding schedule, it should be avoided.
Does “Pumping and Dumping” Work?
Some mothers pump breastmilk after drinking and discard it, hoping to get the contaminated milk out faster (called “pumping and dumping”). This doesn’t decrease your breastmilk’s alcohol levels. Even after getting rid of some breast milk, the milk you pump directly after will still contain alcohol. In fact, the levels in your bloodstream are almost the same as that found in breastmilk. As your blood alcohol level falls over time, so will the amount in your breastmilk. Time is the only solution to remove alcohol from your milk.
With that being said, pumping and dumping can still be useful. It can help you keep your nursing schedule and ease the discomfort of engorged breasts.
Taking Care of a Baby While Drinking
Aside from alcohol’s effects on breastmilk, you should also take into account the risks of caring for a baby when you’re not sober.
Intoxication can affect your judgment and coordination. If you’re carrying or holding a baby, accidents can happen if you’re unbalanced or not walking properly. Since it affects your reaction time, it can change your ability to deal with sudden safety issues. It may also affect your ability to keep your baby’s feeding or sleep schedule and cause you to make bad decisions, such as driving impaired.
Another risk is drinking too much and falling deeply asleep, possibly leaving your baby in a vulnerable position or ignoring her needs. According to the CDC, heavy drinking is also associated with child maltreatment and violence.
If you plan on a night of heavy drinking, you should have your partner, a family member or babysitter take care of her for the evening instead.
If you are a chronic drinker or have an alcohol dependence, breastfeeding likely isn’t the best option. You may not produce enough milk to fully nurse and the alcohol you pass on could cause developmental delays. Talk to your doctor about safer feeding options and about what treatment is available.
Safer Ways to Drink While Breastfeeding
Although having more than one drink and nursing afterward can affect your baby, alcohol does not need to be completely avoided. If you’re a mother who drinks, you can use these tips to breastfeed safely.
Tip #1: Stick to One Drink
If you can, it’s best to stick to one drink. Since it isn’t known to have any harmful effects on breastmilk, your baby should be fine if you wait at least 2 hours to nurse. Since drinks can be poured heavy and some beers and wines have a higher alcohol content, use the guidelines above to learn what a standard drink looks like.
Tip #1: Count Drinks & Estimate Time Until Safe Breastmilk
If you plan to have a couple of drinks, count how many you consume during your drinking period. Using that number, refer to the guidelines above to learn how long it could be present in breastmilk. In general, you should wait about 2 hours before nursing for each drink you consume.
Tip #3: Try Mocktails
After one drink, you may choose to switch to mocktails. If you’re out in a restaurant or bar, this option can seem more exciting than simply ordering water. If you can, plan ahead and choose venues that have mocktail menus so you feel less left out. You can also make them at home: Check out these 17 refreshing summer mocktails.
Tip #3: Pre-Pump Milk
If you know you’re going to be drinking, plan ahead by pumping breastmilk to use for later. How much you should pump depends on how much alcohol you consume. If your partner is looking after the baby and you think your girls night could turn into an evening of heavier drinking, try to pump enough for the entire next day. That way, your baby will be safe and you won’t need to worry about incorrectly estimating how long the alcohol is in your system.
Pumping breastmilk ahead of time is easier with the right breast pump. We recommend the Serenity Electric Breast Pump. Its 2-phase extraction technology and adjustable 10-step suction allows you to pump comfortably but effectively. Although the motor is powerful, it’s silent, which makes public pumping discreet. The compact and lightweight design also makes it ideal for on-the-go.
Pumping ahead of time is also made easy since the Serenity Pump comes with an automated milk storage system. Not only is it convenient, but it prevents possible contamination from transferring milk to bags. It operates with an AC adapter or batteries, is FDA-approved and qualifies for Medicare coverage (depending on the policy and state law). You can get yours today at an affordable price of $49.95.
Tip #4: Use Formula
Whether you’ve forgotten to pre-pump milk or didn’t pump enough, supplement with formula instead of risking contaminated breastmilk.
Although there isn’t significant research on the subject, sticking to one drink and waiting 2 hours before breastfeeding has not shown to be harmful. However, you’ll need to wait longer if you consume additional drinks. Use the guidelines above to learn what’s safe. If you plan on drinking moderately or heavily, you can pre-pump milk or supplement with formula. Since alcohol can affect your judgment, if you’re intoxicated, plan for a sober adult to watch your baby.
Do you pre-pump breast milk before a night out? Comment any tips you have below. If you have any friends who are nursing, share this post with them, too!
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