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 short answer is yes, it is OK to have a glass of wine or a beer occasionally – but you need to plan ahead and you need to understand the way alcohol affects your body and your breast milk.
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
So 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 size, how much you’ve eaten 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 general guide, however, as everybody will metabolise alcohol differently (see point 2).
4. There is no need to ‘pump and dump’ your breast milk after you have a drink
The alcohol will leave the breast milk in time (see point 3) so there is no need for you to express the affected milk and throw it away. Any new milk produced after this will still contain alcohol if it is still in your blood. The only way to get rid of the alcohol in your breast milk is to wait for your body to metabolise it.
There are circumstances though when you might still want to express. If you have skipped a feed so you can drink (for example you’ve gone to a work Christmas party and left some already expressed milk for your baby while you’re away) then you might want to pump when you return home to relieve engorgement and/or to maintain your supply. However, if you express breast milk while the alcohol is in your system you should NOT keep that milk as the alcohol will remain in it.
5. A baby less than a month old will have trouble metabolising any amount of alcohol
A newborn baby will have trouble metabolising alcohol and they will also have quite an irregular and frequent feeding pattern which means it will be hard for you to predict when the next feed will be. Once a baby is older and in an established routine you may be able to have a drink knowing that the next feed will not be for a few hours, by which time your milk will be alcohol-free.
6. If you’re planning on having a few drinks consider expressing milk in advance to bottlefeed your baby
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. Perhaps also offer your baby a bottle beforehand too – some babies just do not take a bottle, especially the first time and especially if they’re also in a new place or with a new person.
If you miss a feed and your breasts become engorged while you’re still affected by alcohol you should express and throw out that milk. Once milk is expressed the alcohol will remain in it.
7. The ‘safest option is to NOT drink alcohol’ …
… according to the Australian Government’s guidelines for alcohol consumption while breastfeeding. They also recommend you avoid drinking alcohol in your baby’s first month and then after that limit your drinking to just two standard drinks a day (but not every day).
8. Breast milk with a small amount of alcohol in it is better than letting a baby go hungry
Don’t panic! If you find yourself in the situation where your baby is hungry but you’ve had a small amount of alcohol (and you don’t think it has completely left our system) it is still better to feed them than to let them go hungry.