Guest Post: Alcohol and Breastmilk

Just in time for the holiday season, a note to clarify the issue of nursing moms drinking alcohol. (c) Karen Orozco

Your milk alcohol level will be exactly the same as your blood alcohol level. So if you’ve had a couple of drinks and hit the legal limit, your milk has about the same alcohol content as fresh fruit juice or a non-alcoholic beer–.08%ish. Alcohol does not concentrate in the milk, and as your liver clears it from your blood, the milk alcohol level will also drop. There is no need to pump and dump for a healthy baby! If you are concerned about even very minimal amounts of alcohol in the baby’s system, nurse before you go out, and time your drinking so that you give your liver time to metabolize it before the baby would want to nurse again.

The takeaway message: Long before you have enough alcohol in your milk for your baby to even notice, you would be so hammered that you would hardly remember you even had a baby. The concern for occasional drinkers is not really alcohol being passed to the baby, but mom and dad remaining sober enough to care for the baby–and that’s a really big deal where co-sleeping is concerned! Safely sleeping with a baby means being stone cold sober. Period.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a great New Year to everyone!

Please note that I’m really only talking about moms who have a drink now and then, not habitual heavy drinkers. We just don’t know what effect continuous long-term exposure to alcohol might have on a baby.

Lynn Carter is an IBCLC in Kirksville, Missouri.

12 thoughts on “Guest Post: Alcohol and Breastmilk

  1. Good post, short and sweet, it always annoys me when my friends (or family) respond to me having *a* glass of wine with ‘well someone’s going to sleep well tonight’ (refering to my nurseling). Um…no, one drink won’t even be noticed by my babe. There was a study this past year released in the U.K. (that mimics studies done in other countries where healthy social drinking, as opposed to the ‘get drunk’ social drinking more common in the U.S., is common) showed that to even register as affecting an infant (affect, not even dangerously affect) a mom’s blood alcohol level had to be almost .2! More than double the legal limit in most U.S. states.

  2. Basically, you should just be aware of how long alcohol takes to exit your system. If you had one drink, it will take about an hour to clear. But if you don’t want to wait an hour, the amount of alcohol the baby will get is still miniscule. I tend to stick to the one-drink-per-hour rule at parties anyway — never enough to get drunk (though I find my tolerance is lower while nursing, probably because I’m a bit dehydrated — it’s important to drink water alongside) or do any harm to my baby. I wouldn’t cosleep, though, unless it had been a few good hours since the last drink and I felt completely clearheaded.

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  4. It’s important to keep in mind that alcohol reduces your oxytocin levels. During the hours after taking a single drink your baby will get less milk for more suckling (thus your breasts may feel more full–possibly the source of the myth that alcohol increases breast milk production) and on average be a bit more fussy and sleep a bit less. Videotaped sessions after mothers take a single drink found somewhat more negative mother-infant interactions during the following hours. The baby compensates for the lost sleep and reduced milk intake during the following day or so if you do not take another drink during that time.

    Depending on your body size etc it may take up to 4 hours for alcohol to clear your blood/milk. Pump and dump does not help. Nor does drinking coffee; nothing but time reducing your alcohol levels. Breastfeeding just before taking a drink (and/or pumping for later feeding) is a useful strategy to reduce infant alcohol exposure. It is wise at least to avoid drinking during the first couple months of the baby’s life. The amount of alcohol in breast milk is indeed low but so is the baby’s liver’s detoxification capacity.

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  6. I really like this and it’s basically what I followed. However, I am wondering if you have the scientific articles or research that you used to write this? Would love to see some references cited for further reading. Thanks!

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