When I attended the breastfeeding workshop at my hospital before giving birth, the question ‘can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding’? was put forth by someone and since then I’ve heard it asked many times by other girls.
As someone who doesn’t drink often, I was surprised by this question but realised later how many women have the same question. So I thought I’d write about it.
After 9 months of pregnancy and not drinking, many women look forward to having a glass of wine again.
The question that arises is whether drinking alcohol is safe if you are breastfeeding.
According to La Leche League’s The Breastfeeding Answer Book (pp. 597-598):
“Alcohol passes freely into mother’s milk and has been found to peak about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, 60 to 90 minutes when taken with food. Alcohol also freely passes out of a mother’s milk and her system. It takes a 120 pound woman about two to three hours to eliminate from her body the alcohol in one serving of beer or wine…the more alcohol that is consumed, the longer it takes for it to be eliminated. It takes up to 13 hours for a 120 pound woman to eliminate the alcohol from one high-alcohol drink.”
So the takeaway is that the mother’s size can impact on the rate alcohol is metabolised i.e a heavier person can metabolise alcohol more quickly.
On whether alcohol is harmful to the baby, La Leche League’s The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding (p. 328) has this guideline:
“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 been proven to be harmful.”
The NHS appears to take a more cautionary approach and recommends “that breastfeeding mothers have no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week. One unit of alcohol is approximately a single (25ml) measure of spirits, half a pint of beer, or 125ml (small) glass of wine, although this depends on the strength of the drink.”
What is important to note though is that the baby’s age should also be taken into consideration. For example, a newborn has an immature liver, and will be more affected by alcohol than an older baby because around 3 months, babies start to metabolize alcohol at about half the rate of adults.
There are also certain misconceptions about drinking and breastfeeding. For example, there is no need to pump breast milk and dispose of it because once alcohol leaves the blood stream, it is also no longer contained in breast milk. Also drinking water, or coffee will not make a difference to how quickly alcohol leaves your bloodstream. The only reason for pumping and dumping is for the comfort of the mother who may have missed a feed and has full breasts.
For piece of mind, there are test strips that measure the alcohol content in your breastmilk.