Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol if You're Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding and The Consumption of Alcohol

Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol (Wine, Beer, Mixed Drinks) If You're Breastfeeding?
Can you drink alcohol if you're breastfeeding?. JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Can You Drink Alcohol if You're Breastfeeding?

Nine months of pregnancy without a single drop of alcohol can seem like an eternity to women who enjoy a drink now and then. That's why one of the most popular questions that lactation consultants hear is, "Now that the baby is born, can I PLEASE have a drink?" Well, let's start with the facts about alcohol consumption and breastfeeding so that you can make a stress-free, informed decision.

Light Drinking Versus Heavy Drinking

If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine, bottle of beer, or mixed drink, this type of light drinking is not considered to be a major risk for the breastfeeding mom or baby. However, regular or heavy drinking is a risk, and it could be very dangerous for you and your baby. 

Fact #1: Alcohol Does Pass into Your Breast Milk

Alcohol, which shows up quickly in the foremilk and hindmilk, does affect the central nervous system of both you and your baby. Studies have shown slower motor development in breastfed babies when mom drinks alcohol on a regular, frequent basis.

Fact #2: Alcohol Affects the Let-Down Reflex

When alcohol is consumed in large quantities, it can interfere with the let-down reflex or milk ejection. Alcohol decreases the amount of prolactin, blocks the release of oxytocin, and can cause a decrease in your supply of breast milk. As a result, the baby's sucking patterns can change.

The baby starts sucking more but gets less breast milk out. This interruption of the let-down reflex along with the decrease in the milk supply can cause a great deal of frustration for the two of you.

Fact #3: Alcohol Changes Your Breast Milk 

Alcohol will change the flavor of your breast milk. Also, one study showed that when mothers drank alcohol their breast milk smelled different, and their babies took in less breast milk even though they nursed for time periods similar to children who were not exposed to alcohol in the breast milk.

The authors of the study believe that the babies were reacting to the odor.

Other Factors to Consider

There are also other factors to consider. The following will affect how you and your child will respond to alcohol:  

  • The timing of your drink. Alcohol passes very rapidly between blood and milk. If you have a drink on an empty stomach, peak levels are reached within a half hour to an hour. If you drink while you're eating, you're looking at an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Your weight
  • Your menstrual cycle
  • Your baby's age

Does This Mean You Have to Avoid ALL Alcohol While You're Breastfeeding?

Obviously, it's ideal for a breastfeeding mother to avoid alcohol altogether, but for most, that's an unrealistic expectation. So, if you do intend to have an alcoholic beverage, here's the recommendation:

  • Breastfeed your baby before having your drink.
  • Wait at least two hours per drink consumed before putting the baby back to the breast. So, if you have one drink, wait two hours. If you have two drinks, wait four hours. Alcohol leaves your breast milk as it leaves your blood. 
  • It is not necessary to "pump and dump" your breast milk. Pumping does not remove the alcohol from your breast milk more quickly. Only time can do that. However, if your breasts are feeling engorged before the time has passed when it's safe to nurse again, you can pump to relieve the engorgement and dump that breast milk.
  • If you are planning on having more than a few drinks, you should also have someone else care for your child during this time. Alcohol not only affects your breast milk, but it can affect your ability to care for your child properly while you're under the influence. 


Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Edited by Donna Murray

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