Drinking in Moderation: OK While Breastfeeding?

Family standing drinking champagne.
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I'd like to go out for the evening, and I may be drinking. Breastfeeding counselors tell me I can drink in moderation, but I'd really like to understand why it's OK. Can you explain it to me?


When it comes to a breastfeeding mother's freedom and drinking, breastfeeding is often considered to not be compatible with social drinking. There is this school of thought that if a mother chooses to breastfeed her baby, then for that entire period of the baby's life, she must make strict choices of what she puts into her own body — one of those choices being alcohol.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who maintain that it is better for a mother to breastfeed, even after drinking, than it is to sacrifice by feeding formula or by "pumping and dumping" the milk.

So, what's the right answer? Perhaps, it would be best to think of it as being OK in moderation. Mothers shouldn't be put off of breastfeeding because it will limit their freedom to drink alcohol on occasion, but they also shouldn't drink excessively either.

How Alcohol Passes Into Breast Milk

Unlike many medications that pass from the mother's body to her milk and typically reduce in potency, alcohol passes freely from the mother's blood to her milk. That means if a mother has a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent (legally drunk in many areas); her breastmilk will be .08 percent alcohol. Unfortunately, some people get confused and think that the baby's blood-alcohol content will then be .08 percent as well, but that isn't the case at all.

To better understand how it works, let's use the example of a breastfeeding mom drinking wine. Wine is generally 10 to 12 percent alcohol. In order for the mother to raise her blood-alcohol level to .08 percent, the 120-pound woman might need to drink an estimated two to three glasses of wine (5 oz.

servings) within an hour. However, the baby isn't drinking breastmilk that is 10 to 12 percent alcohol; he would be drinking milk that is likely somewhere between .06 to .10 percent alcohol. For every 40 minutes that goes by after the last drink, her blood alcohol level drops .01 percent. In this situation, a mother would need to wait four to seven hours for the alcohol to completely leave her breastmilk.

How Many Drinks a Breastfeeding Mother Can Have

The middle ground would be to advise mothers that they can enjoy a few drinks a week, rather than a few drinks a day. Mothers who want some freedom but still wish to exercise prudence could consider limiting alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per week, and then waiting two to three hours after they have enjoyed their beverage to breastfeed.

Expressing Breastmilk After Drinking

There is absolutely no need to "pump and dump" breastmilk in hopes of expressing the alcohol out of the body. If the mother simply waits a few hours after she finished her last drink, the alcohol would have metabolized out of the body.

Generally speaking, if Mom is sober enough to drive, she is likely sober enough to breastfeed. The only reason she would need to pump would be for her own comfort level, to relieve engorgement. If that is the case and she pumps while under the influence of alcohol, she should sacrifice feeding her baby the milk expressed during that time.

Frequently Drinking Alcohol = Breastfeeding Dangers

That being said, nursing moms should feel free to enjoy alcoholic beverages from time to time, but there certainly is reason to be concerned about drinking on a regular basis or drinking heavily. For example, there has been a study stating that mothers who drank two servings of alcohol per day were more likely to have babies that experienced gross motor delays.

Furthermore, drinking alcohol excessively impairs judgment and affects the mothers ability to rouse from sleep. Mothers who have been drinking should make sure their baby is being properly cared for and should absolutely not co-sleep with their baby in order to prevent accidental death.

Breastfeeding moms can find a comfortable middle ground that allows them to enjoy alcohol and still maintain the nursing relationship. There is no need to choose not to breastfeed based upon the thought that she will never be able to kick back and relax with her favorite alcoholic beverage from time to time.

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