Eat, Drink and Be Merry?

As the holiday season approaches, there is one question I am repeatedly asked – “Can I have an occasional alcoholic drink?” And the good news is that, yes you can!

Breastfeeding is a robust process, and putting unnecessary lifestyle restrictions on mothers may lead to earlier weaning from the breast than would otherwise occur. I am all for protecting our babies’ health – and for me, part of this protection is removing barriers to breastfeeding that need not exist.

The fact is that alcohol moves into breastmilk (and out of it again!) at exactly the same rate that it moves in and out of your bloodstream. To put this into a context that we are all familiar with, you are “over the limit” to drive once the level of alcohol in your blood reaches 0.08%.

At this point, your milk would be considered to have an alcohol level of 0.08%; now given that alcohol-free wine can be sold with an alcohol content of just under 0.5% (which is more than 6 times more alcoholic than your milk!) I think we can agree that in any meaningful sense here your milk is virtually alcohol-free.

Can I Drink Unlimited Amounts?

Although a glass (or even two) of wine is fine, it’s not a good idea to drink the entire bottle – not just because of the alcohol that will pass into your milk, but rather because you really shouldn’t be handling a baby when you are drunk (whether you breastfeed or not!)

There are some downsides to mum drinking as well – having more than 2 drinks (units of alcohol) has been shown to temporarily lower milk production and inhibit let-down (Coiro et al 1992; Cobo 1974). And daily consumption of alcohol has been shown to increase the risk for slow weight gain in the infant and has been associated with a decrease in gross motor development (Little et al 1989)

So What Can You Drink?

Since alcohol levels in milk always mirror those in your bloodstream, we can take what we know about drinking generally, and apply this to breastfeeding:

  • Alcohol levels in your milk will generally peak 30mins – 1 hour after drinking (although there are wide variations in this figure depending on body mass, food consumption etc

  • You will never need to “pump and dump” as a way of removing the alcohol from your milk. The levels are very low to begin with, and will naturally fade away with time (assuming you aren’t binge drinking)

  • The general rule of thumb is – if you are sober enough to drive (ie under the legal limit), then you are sober enough to handle your baby and to breastfeed

Happy Holidays!

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