To Wine or not to Wine???........That is the Question???

Just in time for Stampede!!! Happy Reading and Happy Breastfeeding!!!              

Well it’s that time of year again when I get asked the question about the effects of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. Most mother’s look forward to that corporate stampede event, or rockin' concert  when they can indulge ever so slightly in their ‘before-baby life’.  But like any good mother would do, before taking a sip from that wine glass.....she questions is she making the right decision? Will that enticing alcoholic drink get into my breastmilk and harm my baby?

This blog will answer alcohol and breastfeeding related questions and concerns.

First we need to understand how alcohol gets into the breastmilk to be able to determine whether or not it is actually a harmful thing.

Alcohol is a drug. It is probably one of the most commonly used drugs worldwide. Any drug a person takes is eventually diluted throughout the entire body. Some drugs cross the blood-brain barrier and some drugs do not. The only way for a drug to get into your breastmilk is for it to find its way into the bloodstream. Alcohol does in fact cross the blood brain barrier and does get into your bloodstream. But it does not get trapped in the milk. It is constantly removed from the milk as it diffuses back into the bloodstream during the metabolization process. So when your blood alcohol levels are back down, so are your milk alcohol levels.

So what does this mean when you are about to accept that glass of wine from a handsome waiter? Let’s dive into the punch bowl a little deeper!

Consuming alcohol while breastfeeding means planning ahead and making smart, informed decisions. Current research says that occasional use of alcohol (1-2 drinks) does not appear to be harmful to the nursing baby. La Leche League’s opinion on this matter states: ‘The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount the mother ingests. When the breastfeeding mother drinks occasionally or limits her consumption to one drink or less per day, the amount of alcohol her baby receives has not proven to be harmful.’  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most breastfeeding mothers should wait at least 2 hours or longer after alcohol intake before nursing their infants to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk.

The concentration of alcohol in blood and breastmilk is about the same. So however long it takes your body to metabolize a glass of wine or beer, that’s how long it is going to take before it’s out of the breastmilk. For most women, this is between 2-3 hours. This is also why there is no need to pump and dump your milk. Unless it is primarily for comfort, pumping and dumping your milk after consuming alcohol does not speed the elimination of alcohol from the milk. So the best piece of advice would be to wait at least 2-3 hours after having your last drink before breastfeeding your baby.

Majority of jurisdictions consider you too drunk to drive if your blood alcohol level is more than 0.05%-0.1%. Most breastfeeding women at the holiday Christmas party are not going to have a blood alcohol level much greater than 0.1%. This is not a concentration of alcohol that is going to make baby sick or cause brain damage. Generally, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed. Less than 2% of the alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her blood and milk. Alcohol peak’s in mom’s blood and milk approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour after drinking. But remember, this depends on how much food she has eaten, BMI, and percentage body fat.

So when you know that you have a stampede event coming up, it’s important to plan ahead. Start to pump and store your breastmilk a few days before the party. Make sure you have enough milk stored for at least 2 feedings. When enjoying at your festive soiree, make sure to eat a substantial amount of (healthy) food. Make sure to combine a protein with a carb and drink plenty of water throughout the evening. Keep checking in with yourself as well. Ask yourself, ‘how am I feeling?’ ‘Could I safely get into my car and drive home?’ This is a good gauge in order to determine if you are ‘sober’ enough to breastfeed your baby.

If you are going to be out for the entire evening, you may need/want to bring your breastpump with you. Try to pump as often as baby usually feeds. This is just to help maintain your supply and prevent plugged ducts, not because of the alcohol in your breastmilk. You may also have to re-consider your holiday dress choice if you are going to have to sneak off somewhere and pump. Dresses with zippers in the back are generally a pain in the butt!! I say this speaking from experience!!

It is also important to consider the age of the baby before consuming alcohol. A newborn has a very immature liver. Even small amounts of alcohol are going to put a strain on this underdeveloped organ. Until an infant is around 3 months of age, they detoxify alcohol at around half the rate of an adult. An older baby or toddler can metabolize the alcohol more quickly.

Alcohol does not increase milk production and has been shown to inhibit let-down and actually decrease milk production. Studies have shown that after a mother has consumed alcohol, babies nurse more frequently but take in less milk in the 3-4 hours after mom has had a drink. One study showed a 23% decrease in milk volume with one drink (Mennella and Beauchamp 1991,1993; Mennella 1997,1999) Another study by Coiro et al 1992; Cobo 1974, showed that 2 or more drinks may inhibit let-down. Alcohol is a CNS depressant. Any depressant is going to diminish your reflexive behaviour. Let-down is a reflex. So therefore, it makes sense that this reflex could be ‘slowed’ when alcohol is consumed. One study also showed changes in the infant’s sleep-wake patterning after short-term exposure to small amounts of alcohol in breastmilk-infants whose mothers were light drinkers slept less (Mennella & Gerrish 1998)

So to sum it all up for you, here are the key points to take away from this festive season blog:

  • Your baby’s age. The younger your baby is the more affected his liver will be by the metabolization of alcohol
  • Your weight determines how quickly the alcohol will be metabolizedand cleared from your breastmilk/bloodstream
  • The amount of alcohol consumed is directly related to the effects on the infant. The more alcohol consumes, the longer it takes to clear your body
  • An alcoholic drink consumed with food decreases absorption
  • It is best to wait 2-3 hours after your last drink before breastfeeding your baby

I hope this post was helpful and informative. Please feel free to leave your comments or contact me with any questions or concerns. Have a great Stampede week everyone. Have fun and Happy Breastfeeding!!!


Always, Leanne Rzepa RN BN IBCLC


Posted on December 16, 2016 .