After nine months of pregnancy you’re probably used to saying ‘no’ when you’re offered a drink.
But what about now the baby is here? Is it OK have a drink if you’re breastfeeding?
The Australian Government Department of Health recommends that, for women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby .
This is because alcohol crosses into the breast milk and can stay there for several hours, reduce the flow of milk and affect how the baby’s brain and spinal cord develops .
Research has shown that no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy or while breastfeeding has been identified .
So, while the safest course of action is to not drink at all, it is still important to know a bit about how alcohol does affect breast milk so you can make informed decisions.
Here are some things you should know about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.
How alcohol affects your breast milk
1. Alcohol gets into your breast milk from your blood
It takes about 30-60 minutes for the alcohol to reach your breast milk.
2. The alcohol level in your breast milk is the same as in your blood
If your blood alcohol level is 0.05 then so is your breast milk alcohol level. This is a general measure as there are many factors that contribute to your blood/breast milk alcohol level, including your body size, how much you’ve eaten, what you are drinking and how quickly you are drinking.
3. It takes about two hours for the average woman’s body to metabolise one drink
Your breast milk should be alcohol-free approximately two hours after you’ve drunk one standard drink. If you’ve had two standard drinks it will be four hours before your milk is alcohol-free etc. This is a very general guide, however, as everybody will metabolise alcohol differently (see point 2).
4. There is no need to ‘pump and dump’ your breast milk if you have a drink
Time is the only thing that will reduce the amount of alcohol in your breast milk—the only thing you can do is wait for your body to metabolise it.
The alcohol is not ‘stored’ in your breast milk. It will leave your breast milk in the same way it leaves your blood. Pumping and dumping will not remove ‘affected’ milk .
If you do pump while there is alcohol in your breast milk (eg. to relieve engorgement or to keep up supply) the expressed milk must be thrown away immediately. Alcohol remains in breast milk after it has been expressed. It cannot be metabolised out, once it has left your body .
5. Plan ahead if you do choose to have a drink
When a baby is young their feeds are frequent and irregular, so the safest option is to follow the official advice and avoid alcohol altogether.
But when you’re breastfeeding an older baby or toddler you’re more likely to be in an established routine, so you might choose to have a drink knowing that the next feed will be for a few hours away, by which time your milk will be alcohol-free.
If you are planning on drinking more than a couple of drinks—you have a function or celebration to attend—then you should consider expressing milk in advance so your baby doesn’t miss a feed .
If you miss a feed and your breasts become engorged and while you’re still affected by alcohol you can express that milk—but discard it immediately as once breast milk is expressed the alcohol will remain in it.
6. A small amount of breast milk that contains alcohol is better than no breast milk
Don’t panic if, on a single occasion, you’ve had a small amount of alcohol (and you don’t think it has completely left your system) but your baby is hungry (and you have no other option such as solid food or expressed milk). It is better to feed them than to let them go hungry .