Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Nursing Mothers Receive Conflicting Advice

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Mother with baby daughter (6-11 months) making toast
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Breastfeeding mothers receive conflicting advice about whether or not drinking alcohol will have a negative effect on their babies.

The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans states,"Women who are breastfeeding should talk with their health care provider about alcohol consumption." That's officially inconclusive. You'll find a wide range of opinions online, from not drinking at all until the baby is weaned, to waiting three hours after drinking before breastfeeding, and almost everything in between.

Advice About Breastfeeding from Health Care Professionals

"There are a lot of breast milk and alcohol theories out there," writes Stephanie Ryan, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC at the Childbirth.org website. "Some health care providers feel it is best to avoid all alcohol while nursing. Some feel that occasional moderate drinking is okay and some feel that if any alcohol is consumed, you should pump and dump for 24 hours."

"Alcohol clears the breast milk in about the same amount of time it takes to clear the blood stream. If you are planning to drink heavily (more than two drinks), you may want to give it 6 to 8 hours to clear your system," Ryan says.

But Denise G Hewson, RN, IBCLC at the TheBump.com website has a different view. "By the time you are no longer feeling tipsy, it is okay to feed your baby. Alcohol does not go into your milk and stay there. It goes in and comes out. If you feel ok, then most of the alcohol is out of your milk.

If you have any doubt, pump and dump one time and that should be fine."

But the American Academy of Pediatricians has a still different view: While you are nursing, avoid drinking alcohol because it can pass through your milk to your baby. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink it just after you nurse rather than just before.

Melissa Nagin, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, says "alcohol, which shows up quickly in foremilk and in hindmilk, does affect the central nervous system of you and your baby." But she adds that light, occasional drinking is not considered a major risk for the breastfeeding mom and baby.

Drinking in Moderation Is Key, Experts Agree

Although these experts disagree about the length of time between drinking and breastfeeding, one thing they all agree about is that mothers who drink while breastfeeding should only do so moderately and "moderate" means no more than two drinks per day.

Heavy drinkers or alcoholics who breastfeed should "abstain from drinking alcohol until their babies are weaned" the Recovery Emporium suggests. Alcohol readily enters breast milk and heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce lactation.

The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount the mother consumes, according to LaLeche League. A study by The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development detected a significant difference in motor development at one year of age in those babies subjected regularly to alcohol.

"Moderation is the key," says Pat Dwiggins, a nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in Pensacola, Fla.

"Drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can inhibit let-down and even deplete milk supply, not to mention affect baby's development."

Having Trouble Trying to Quit Drinking While Breastfeeding?

Have you tried to quit drinking or cut down and find you have had trouble doing so? You may want to take the Alcohol Abuse Screening Quiz to find out if you have developed a drinking problem.