When you are breastfeeding, anything you eat or drink can find its way into your breast milk – including alcohol. So how much if any is okay to drink when you are breastfeeding?
The best advice is to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding, especially during the first month. However, many mothers find themselves in situations where they want to drink, but have concerns about any possible effects on their baby.
|If you do choose to drink it is safest to:|
How could alcohol affect my baby?
Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol while you are breastfeeding could harm your baby. Research suggests that breastfed babies whose mothers drink 1 to 2 standard drinks of alcohol or more per day on a regular basis may have impaired motor development, disturbed sleep and slow weight gain.
Having too much alcohol can also affect your ability to care for your baby. If you choose to have a few drinks, make sure that your baby has someone looking after them who is alert to their needs. Never share a bed or sofa with your baby if you have had any alcohol. Doing this increases the risk of sudden unexplained death or accidental smothering.
How much alcohol gets into breast milk?
When you drink, alcohol passes from your stomach into your bloodstream and from there into your breast milk. The level of alcohol in your breast milk is approximately the same as the level in your blood. These levels peak about 30 to 40 minutes after you’ve had your drink, and then they both start to drop as your body breaks the alcohol down.
A newborn baby has an immature liver and it takes twice as long for their body to break down alcohol as it does for adults.
Managing the occasional drink
If you do choose to drink, it is safest to avoid breastfeeding for 2–3 hours afterwards for each standard drink you have. This allows the alcohol to clear from your breast milk. A convenient time to have a drink is just after you have breastfed your baby. This will allow the alcohol to clear from your breast milk during the natural interval between breastfeeding sessions.
One standard drink is approximately:
- 125ml (small) glass of wine
- half a pint of beer
- a single (25ml) measure of spirits.
Keep in mind that not all wine and beer is the same strength. One standard drink will be contained in a smaller volume if you are drinking ‘strong’ beer or fortified wine. Read more about standard drinks.
Planning ahead for social occasions
If you have a social occasion to attend where you intend to drink more than one standard drink, plan ahead and express. The expressed breast milk can be fed to your baby while the alcohol is clearing from your body.
Your breasts may become uncomfortably full if you skip a breastfeeding session so you may wish to “pump and dump”. This will help prevent engorgement and maintain milk supply. Keep in mind that this doesn’t speed the elimination of alcohol from your body.
A blood alcohol reading will give you a fairly accurate idea of your milk alcohol level.
Is there an app for calculating how long alcohol stays in breastmilk?
Yes, there is an app called Feed Safe NZ. It contains official recommendations from the NZ Ministry of Health, along with contact details for breastfeeding information and support services.
Promotional material for the app says it contains answers to the most common questions about alcohol and breastfeeding. Among its features, the app has a timer, which uses a mother's height, weight and alcohol intake to estimate when her breast milk should be free of alcohol.
Learn more about the Feed Safe NZ app.
Can alcohol boost my milk supply?
There is no evidence that drinking alcohol, including stout, will help you produce more milk. Alcohol actually decreases the milk let-down reflex, causing a temporary decrease in milk production. In addition, the presence of alcohol in breast milk has been shown to cause babies to drink about 20% less than usual.
The following links provide further information about breastfeeding and alcohol. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
- Alcohol and breastfeeding Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, November 2013
- Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol National Health and Medical Research Council, AU, 2009
- Drinking guidelines for pregnancy and breastfeeding International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, Updated Feb 2016
- Alcohol and pregnancy: A practical guide for health professionals Health Promotion Agency, NZ, 2010