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8 things you should know about breastfeeding and alcohol

Woman drinking alcohol 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.

READ: If you’re just starting out check out our breastfeeding guide to the first few days

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.

– Information from the Australian Government’s New Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption and the Australian Breastfeeding Association

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2 comments so far -

  1. I recently had a work christmas party where dinner and drinks were paid for. My 7 month old baby stayed in a safe environment with my sister being bottle fed for the night. We took the opportunity to have ourselves a big night and go all out. My partner and i got extremely intoxicated. Little did I know my baby wasnt eating or drinking or sleeping as a separation anxiety from me and my breastfeeding. So we happily came home went to sleep at 2:30am.
    I got the call at 9am about his behaviour and to pick him up as they were going out. My partner raced over there while i pumped and dumped even though I assumed it would long be out of my system. When i pumped it was a faint colour compared to normal but I thought it was because my boobs where engorged.
    Soon as they got in the door i raced him onto my breasts, some time later he was acting very odd, happy and giggly and very relaxed. I thought he just loved having us back, he was extra hungry so he breast fed heaps i thought that was apart of his separation anxiety he had just went through so i let him feed heaps, he was giggling at the most random things. Then the next day he was extremely grouchy, tired and not himself he seems in pain and had done many runny poos that had extra odour and his tummy and head seemed to be hurting him.
    Now that I have learnt my mistake please be careful of your intake! Im so sorry for my little man all thw love I have given him never allows me to forgive myself for this stupidity.

    • Hi Shez, thanks for sharing your story with us. You’re right … it is important to know beforehand how alcohol will affect your breastmilk which is why we have included this article on our site. Take care xx

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