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Alcohol & Breastfeeding | Effects & Safety

Published on July 19, 2021
Alcohol Abuse & Breastfeeding | Effects & Safety

Just like with pregnancy, alcohol and breastfeeding are not a good mix. Alcohol can transfer into breast milk and any alcohol exposure to a newborn is not safe. Even just a small amount can cause issues with your nursing baby.

How Much Alcohol Actually Gets Into Breast Milk?

Alcohol levels are likely the highest in breast milk 30-60 minutes after alcohol intake and can generally be detected for 2-3 hours per alcoholic drink. 

The more the mother drinks, the longer the length of time before all the alcohol is gone from the milk. Not drinking alcohol is really the safest option to ensure your baby doesn’t consume any alcohol.

That being said, how long alcohol is detected in breast milk depends on a number of factors including:

  • amounts of alcohol consumed
  • how fast the alcohol is consumed
  • whether the consumption of alcohol involved food
  • body weight of the breastfeeding mother
  • how fast alcohol is broken down or metabolized in a mother’s body

Is It Safe To Have One Glass Of Wine?

An occasional drink, like 5 ounces of wine, is unlikely to hurt a mother or her baby. However, binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can have various adverse effects on both.

It’s been shown that the maternal blood alcohol concentration matches the baby’s. So if the mother has a high blood alcohol concentration from drinking a lot, the breastfed baby will have a high blood alcohol concentration as well.

Effects Of Alcohol On Breastfeeding

Drinking alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding can affect the supply of milk as well as the baby who ends up drinking it. 

In terms of milk supply, alcohol can affect the balance of hormones that control breast milk production, prolactin and oxytocin, and result in the body producing less milk.

Alcohol lowers the level of oxytocin and increases the level of prolactin. Both these hormonal changes delay milk production and affect lactation. 

Alcohol can also interfere with the milk ejection reflex (also known as the letdown) and result in your baby taking in less milk than they need.

Effects Of Alcohol On A Nursing Baby

A baby drinking milk that alcohol has transferred to can experience multiple side effects that may include: 

  • disturbance in sleep patterns
  • increased crying
  • increased startling
  • increased arousal
  • increased rem sleep
  • decreased milk intake by the baby
  • decreased growth
  • weakness
  • impaired immune function
  • delay of motor development
  • potential impairment of cognitive development
  • decreased weight gain

Can You Pump & Dump Breast Milk Safely?

One of the biggest myths when it comes to alcohol consumption and breastfeeding is that if the mother pumps and gets rid of some of the milk after drinking alcohol, the rest will be clean. 

That’s not true. Pumping and dumping does not reduce the amount of alcohol in the mother’s milk. Only time will lower the level of alcohol in the milk.

Pumping and dumping will only reduce any physical discomfort you might have. 

You can pump milk before you drink alcohol and feed that to the baby and likely be fine, but otherwise, if you drink, the breast milk won’t be completely alcohol-free until 2-3 hours after you consumed the alcohol. And that’s per drink. If you have 2 drinks, it will take 4 -6 hours. 

The more you drink and the higher your blood alcohol level is, the longer you have to wait to nurse your baby.

If you or a loved one struggles with substance use, call our helpline today to discover the right treatment options for you.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol | Breastfeeding
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Use in Pregnancy
Drugs and Lactation Database - Alcohol
National Library of Medicine - Alcohol and breastfeeding
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol and pregnancy

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