Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Pregnant women receive strict advice about avoiding alcohol intake during pregnancy. Numerous studies present how alcohol affects the unborn baby, resulting to multiple health risks that may endanger its life, as well as the mother’s. Aside from fatal health risks, newborns may also show delayed mental and physical development if born from mothers drinking high amounts of alcohol while pregnant.

However, health risks linking to alcohol and breastfeeding has not been well defined unlike the relationship between alcohol and pregnancy. Breastfeeding moms find themselves hanging with more questions after receiving contradicting information from many individuals about potential repercussions brought by alcohol intake while nursing. This scenario highlights the importance of knowing accurate information a breastfeeding mom should know about drinking alcohol while nursing.

Are There Health Risks of Alcohol and Breastfeeding?

The fact is, alcohol intake may pose health problems for breastfeeding infants without taking precautions. Alcohol absorbed in the system also penetrates the mammary glands and mixes with breast milk, which will then be transferred to the infant’s body during feeding.

A glass of wine will pass a small amount of alcohol content to your breast milk. Despite the minimal amount, an infant’s liver is very small and immature, which makes alcohol processing slower. Anatomical studies on body processes show that babies three months and below process alcohol at half the rate compared to adults.

  • Several studies highlight alcohol affecting a baby’s sleeping and eating habits. A baby drinks around 20 percent less milk four hours after a mom drank a can of beer or one mixed drink. After consuming alcohol, an infant will feel drowsy and require to sleep more, but with shorter duration on each sleeping time.
  • Developmental processes may be hindered when breast milk presents with alcohol content. According to a study, infants who nursed from mothers drinking one alcoholic concoction a day during the first three months showed delayed gross motor development upon turning a year old. However, this research was not replicated for further testing and analysis.

Although the harms of alcohol and breastfeeding lack substantial evidence, experts recommend total alcohol abstinence for breastfeeding mothers until the infant reaches its third month. If you do need to have a sip or two, it is best to consult with a physician if you think you’re drinking more than recommended servings.

Having an Occasional Drink—How Can I Make It Safe?

  • Experts recommend two-hour waiting time after drinking before breastfeeding your baby. During this waiting period, your body will process the alcohol and clean it out from your system, which prevents alcohol mixing with milk. Blood alcohol level and alcohol contents on milk are at its peak level within the first 30 to 90 minutes after drinking. However, alcohol processing and flushing rates vary among mothers due to several factors.
  • Timing your alcohol intake with the infant’s sleep is a good practice. Notice the infant’s sleep pattern and note the time of the day when he sleeps longer. Drink during this sleeping period since your infant will be asleep for a while, which means your body has enough time to process the alcohol before feeding.
  • If you don’t want to wait, pump breast milk and store it in the refrigerator before drinking. This lets you drink without waiting time for breastfeeding since the milk is ready and guaranteed alcohol-free. Pumping after alcohol intake doesn’t mean faster alcohol processing. You still need to wait two hours before your milk will have minimal to no alcohol content.
  • Feeding the baby prior to drinking is also a good practice if you can’t avoid drinking like in cases of events or for relaxation purposes. That way the milk will be alcohol-free and without affecting your alcohol enjoyment.
  • Alcohol intake causes dehydration, which adds up to lack of fluids caused by breastfeeding. Drink a glass of water after or while drinking alcohol to counteract dehydration. Aside from fluid replenishment, drinking water can also decrease alcohol level on both blood and milk.

Watch a video for more tips on alcohol and breastfeeding:

What’s the Harm of Drinking More than One Drink?

A breastfeeding mom finds it challenging to drink more alcohol servings in a safer way. More alcoholic beverage servings mean higher alcohol level, which also implies longer alcohol processing and cleaning in the system.

How Long does Alcohol Stays in the Body?

A research study focusing on alcohol clearance rate from breast milk stated that a 120-pound mother with average height drinking three alcoholic beverages in an hour requires around seven to eight hours before breast milk becomes alcohol free. A woman weight 175 pounds with the same height requires approximately six hours before clearing alcohol. Alcohol clearance time depends on the height, weight and alcohol servings. For instance, it will take up to three hours before alcohol from drinking 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol content), 5 ounces of wine (11 percent), and 1.5 ounces of liquor (40 percent) to clear off from your bloodstream.


Avoid nursing your infant if you drank more than recommended alcoholic drink servings. Wait until you are sober. If you want to pump, dispose the pressed out milk since pumping cannot help clear off alcohol on the system and breast milk faster. Pumping will help you maintain milk supply despite drinking.

An infant who has long sleep at night may allow mothers to drink one alcoholic beverage serving. However, this is not advisable due to safety reasons. Alcohol intoxication prevents you from caring for your baby safely. Similarly, being under alcohol or other substance influence impairs your senses and may affect your awareness of the infant’s presence. It is recommended to avoid co-sleeping with your baby after drinking to avoid potential accidents.

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