Your Guide to Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding
You put your Sunday morning mimosa and your Friday night glass of wine on hold for nine whole months (or maybe more!) while your baby grew in your belly, but now that your little one is here…surely you can celebrate with a drink or two, right?
The short answer is "yes, of course," but the answer gets a little more complicated if you're breastfeeding. Especially if you're exclusively breastfeeding.
Just as alcohol enters your bloodstream, it also enters your breast milk, which is dangerous for your baby. So, if and when you do decide to imbibe, you just want to make sure you do it safely.
How alcohol enters your breast milk
When you consume alcohol, your body works to metabolize it quickly, which means it enters your bloodstream (and milk) faster than you might realize. But that also means as long as you're not drinking excessively, the alcohol leaves your body reasonably quickly.
"Alcohol transfers into breast milk within about 30 minutes, and is metabolized and out of the milk within two hours for one, average-sized alcoholic beverage," said Andrea Tran, R.N., an IBCLC lactation consultant with a master's in health and wellness.
Given that even most newborns only need to be breastfed every two to three hours, that gives you a window of time to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer without worrying too much about spiking your milk.
Of course, it's important to keep in mind that how quickly alcohol clears from your body can vary greatly. "This depends on variables like your weight, whether or not you were drinking alcohol while eating food, and even if you're ovulating," said Mindy Cockeram, a certified lactation educator and the author of "Breastfeeding Doesn't Have to Suck! Tips, Tricks, & Knowledge for a Great Experience."
"In general, 12 ounces of 5 percent beer would take the average height woman who weighs 150 pounds 2 hours and 14 minutes to metabolize and clear the alcohol from her breast milk," Cockeram explained.
Time your drink wisely
The thing is, if you're trying to sneak in a drink between feedings, you have to time your drink correctly. "I advise moms who want to enjoy an adult beverage to consume it right after a feeding, and by the next feeding her milk should be fine," Tran said.
While some people go as far as to suggest you can actually consume your beer or wine while breastfeeding, since it takes about 30 minutes for the alcohol to enter your milk, it's probably best to wait or to only pour that glass at the very end of your feeding.
If your little one decides he needs an extra-long bout at the boob, or if she falls asleep on one side and gets a late start on the other side, you may end up in a somewhat "gray area" as far as possibly tainted milk goes.
Pay attention to drink size
Another thing to keep in mind is what qualifies as a single drink. Cockeram emphasized the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines. "They advise breastfeeding parents to wait two hours after a 'standard alcoholic drink,' which is 12 ounces of 5 percent beer, 8 ounces of 7 percent malt liquor, 5 ounces of 12 percent wine, or 1.5 ounces of 40 percent (80 proof) liquor before feeding the baby," she said.
That means you need to be careful about what, exactly, you're drinking. Most wine glasses are much larger than the standard 5-ounce drink size, so you'll want to measure your pour. Likewise, many specialty beers have an alcohol content much higher than 5 percent.
And if you order a margarita or another mixed drink at a restaurant? Chances are you're getting more than 1.5 ounces of liquor. Having a little more than a single drink isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's always best to hedge your bets and plan ahead if you think you might be consuming more than one.
When you want to (or end up) drinking more than one
If it's your birthday, an anniversary celebration or your first girls' night out post-baby—it's natural to want to cut loose a little bit. If you want to drink more than one drink, and you still want to give your baby breast milk, your safest bet is to plan ahead.
Even if you're exclusively breastfeeding, you can still give your baby your own breast milk in a bottle by pumping some milk ahead of time. Milk can be stored in the fridge for up to four days or in the freezer for up to six months, so if you have a small stock on hand, a night out (planned or unplanned) won't be a problem.
The myth of 'pumping and dumping,' and a better solution
You may have heard at some point that if you've been drinking, you can "pump and dump" to clear the alcohol from your breast milk. As nice a rumor as that might be, it's simply untrue.
Only time and metabolism can clear alcohol from your breast milk. If alcohol is in your system, it's in your system until your liver has cleared it. That said, there may still be merit to pumping (without dumping) after you've consumed alcohol.
"If a woman doesn't remove milk from her breast at feeding times, she's likely to get engorged, making pumping useful and necessary," Cockeram said. Not to mention, breastfeeding or pumping at regular intervals helps maintain and boost milk supply, so even if you're planning a night off from breastfeeding, that doesn't mean you should skip pumping.
The reality is, drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can be completely safe for you and your baby, as long as you're doing it responsibly.
According to Cockeram, you don't even need to "dump" the milk you pump. "I encourage pump and lightly boil rather than dump. Breast milk is too precious to waste," she said. "Just put pumped milk in a pan and heat to just below boiling for 20 to 30 seconds, then let the milk cool and use, refrigerate or freeze. Alcohol burns off at a temperature of 172 degrees Fahrenheit. Milk banks put all their donated milk through a very similar process."
Even if you don't want to use the milk you've pumped after drinking, you still don't need to dump it. Tran suggested using it as a milk bath—a soothing experience for your baby.
The reality is, drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can be completely safe for you and your baby, as long as you're doing it responsibly. Pay attention to timing and drink sizes, and when in doubt, use pre-pumped milk, or pump and boil out the alcohol before putting it to use.