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When you’ve just given birth, you haven’t imbibed in alcohol for nine (possibly long) months. Perhaps you’ve been counting down the days until you can uncork the champagne and celebrate your baby’s arrival—but if you’re nursing or pumping, it’s important to understand the safety considerations for drinking while breastfeeding.
Alcohol and Breastfeeding 101
According to Medela, approximately half of all lactating women in western countries consume alcohol while breastfeeding. To be clear, alcohol does pass from your bloodstream into your milk supply, and the CDC states that abstaining from alcohol is the safest choice for breastfeeding. But one standard drink per day, (roughly 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits) consumed at least two hours prior to breastfeeding, is not known to cause harm to newborns.
Breast milk-alcohol levels peak about 30-60 minutes after drinking. If you stop drinking at that point, your breast milk-alcohol concentration will gradually start to decline. The amount of time it takes for alcohol to leave your system depends on your weight, what and how much you’ve eaten, and how quickly you were drinking. The CDC recommends that you wait at least two hours in between consuming one standard drink and breastfeeding to allow your liver to metabolize the alcohol in your system
Pumping and Dumping Does Not Reduce Alcohol Concentration
To be clear, alcohol is stored in your bloodstream, not your breasts—so “pumping and dumping” does nothing to remove alcohol from your breast milk. Per the CDC, “Expressing or pumping milk after drinking alcohol, and then discarding it (“pumping and dumping”), does NOT reduce the amount of alcohol present in the mother’s milk more quickly.” You may choose to feed your baby previously expressed milk from your milk storage, and pump and dump to ease your own physical comfort. However, the passage of time is the only effective way to rid your breast milk of alcohol. Drinking in excess of one unit of alcohol at least two hours before breastfeeding could damage your baby’s sleep patterns, development, and growth.
Alcohol Impacts Your Caretaking Capabilities
Another crucial consideration: taking care of your baby while under the influence is never recommended. Whether breastfeeding or not, drinking to excess can hinder your ability to make careful decisions. And always make sure you have safe sleeping arrangements for your infant: there is a strong correlation between falling asleep with newborns while under the influence and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Even Moderate Drinking Can Affect Your Milk Supply
Alcohol can affect your levels of prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones that control breast milk production. Even a single glass of wine can disrupt these milk-producing hormones short-term, and regular alcohol consumption could reduce your long-term milk production. If you drink alcohol and are having milk supply issues, it’s best to reach out to your doctor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant immediately to discuss possible lifestyle changes.
Mindfulness is Key
While wine and breastfeeding don’t always have to be mutually exclusive, conscious consumption is crucial. Talk to your doctor or IBCLC to come up with a lifestyle plan that works for you and your baby.