Congrats, mom! You’ve just spent nine months doing everything in your power to ensure the health and well-being of your new baby – which included no drinking. And if “breast is best” is your motto, you might be asking, “Can you drink and breastfeed?”
When it comes to alcohol, breastfeeding mothers often receive conflicting advice about alcohol and breastfeeding. So, before you add any additional stress and anxiety to the process, read what local lactation consultants have to say about drinking while breastfeeding.
First – relax. There’s no need for two crying babies! You can drink if you plan on nursing, says Dennette Fend, a nurse practitioner and international board certified lactation consultant at Beaumont Hospital. “The key is moderation – it’s all about timing and quantity.” Chronic or heavy drinkers should not breastfeed, but if done in moderation, little to no alcohol will come out of your breast milk.
Tolerance is another factor. Remember, typically woman don’t drink during pregnancy, so postpartum your tolerance will be lower. You may have been able to throw back a bottle of wine before the baby, but now a half glass of wine may have you feeling buzzed.
The general guideline among experts is that a mother can enjoy one drink and wait two or three hours before nursing her baby. For example, according to La Leche League’s, The Breastfeeding Answer Book, “It takes a 120 pound woman about two to three hours to eliminate from her body the alcohol in one serving of beer or wine … the more alcohol that is consumed, the longer it takes for it to be eliminated.”
Another factor is metabolism. Since every woman metabolizes alcohol differently, there is no sure way to know when that drink will be completely out of your system.
So, is this where “pump and dump” comes into play?
According to Brandy Walters, an international board certified lactation consultant at In-Home Lactation Specialists, LLC, this is an outdated, misunderstood process.
“Alcohol doesn’t just sit in your breast milk. So, pumping and dumping won’t get rid of the alcohol in your breast milk once it is already in your bloodstream. You have to wait until your body metabolizes it – out of the blood then out of the milk,” says Walters.
There is no surefire way to ensure you won’t pass alcohol to your baby, but there are steps you can take to decrease the risk. To help to reduce the uncertainty, Walters says many of her patients use breast milk test strips, such as Milkscreen by UpSpring. These will help you quickly analyze your breast milk for alcohol. Fend also recommends drinking in moderation with food to help decrease alcohol absorption.
Debby Busick, an international board certified lactation consultant, registered dietitian and owner of BlessedFeeds Consulting, suggests pumping and storing milk. Use this milk to get the baby accustomed to bottle-feeding. If mom is concerned about her use of alcohol and breastfeeding, she can give the stored breast milk to the baby.
As with any situation, there are always risks. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs considers alcohol compatible with breastfeeding – in moderation. However, if consumed in large amounts, the possible side effects include drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness and abnormal weight gain in the infant, and the possibility of decreased milk-ejection reflex in the mother.
So, when asking, “Can you drink and breastfeed?” remember there are a number of factors that come into play. If you’re still concerned, contact your doctor or lactation consultant.
This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2016.