Drinking and Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know

Cheers! It’s Time To Ditch The Shame-Game

Whether it’s date night, girls’ night or Tuesday night, sometimes a glass of wine or a cocktail is in order: after all, motherhood is all about balance. But for breastfeeding moms, is alcohol totally off-limits? In a word, no. However, the topic of alcohol consumption can be a tricky one for breastfeeding moms to navigate, and too often it’s a target for judgment. (Even from men, which needs to stop NOW.) With all the confusing, conflicting information out there, we thought it was time for a super-straightforward analysis—and to debunk some common myths.

How long does it take for alcohol to leave my milk?

Alcohol is found to peak in a mom’s milk about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, or after 60 to 90 minutes if it’s consumed with food. For a 120-pound woman, the alcohol from one glass of wine or beer is metabolized in two to three hours, while a high-alcohol drink can take 13 hours to completely leave her system.

So how much can I safely drink, and how often?

Consider the above and do the math: depending on how much you drink, how often you pump, and how big a stockpile of milk you have on hand, you are in charge of deciding how much is right for you, and how often. The most important thing is minimizing stress, so if calculating your breastfeeding schedule around your girls’ nights out stresses you out, skip it. If you feel comfortable, figure out what works for your body and go for it, guilt-free. The real danger with drinking and breastfeeding is being impaired to the point that you risk dropping the baby or falling asleep in a dangerous co-sleeping environment. Don’t care for your infant while you’re impaired. If you have a sitter for the night, do you.

Can I nurse my baby (or pump and feed that milk) if I’ve been drinking?

A general rule of thumb: if you’re sober enough to drive, you’re sober enough to nurse. You can nurse as soon as you feel “neurologically normal.” Less than two percent of the alcohol a mom consumes will make its way into her milk and blood, so generally a drink or two is not considered harmful. Of course, the effects of alcohol on an individual can vary based on many factors including body weight, body fat and how recently you’ve eaten. It’s also important to keep in mind the age of your baby. With an immature liver and lower body weight, a newborn will be affected more than a three-month-old.

Do I need to “pump and dump”?

Again, use the guidelines above. If you just left the bar and your boobs are bursting, pump it and dump it. If you can wait the 2-3 hours to pump until the alcohol in your system has dissipated, it’s safe to feed your baby or pump and save the milk.

Given all this information, remember that you know your body and your baby best. Consider the facts AND your comfort level. For some breastfeeding moms, that may mean avoiding alcohol completely, while for others, an occasional drink or two is a-okay (and makes breastfeeding feel less restrictive). The greatest alcohol-related risk for any mom is the risk of handling your infant while you’re impaired.

Empowering moms with the facts they need to make informed decisions for themselves puts control back in your hands where it belongs. But some people experience control issues with alcohol, and having a baby won’t change that. If your drinking feels out of control, help is available, and there’s no shame in reaching out. Click here for a guide to available resources including support networks specifically for women and moms.