Alcohol while breastfeeding
Once upon a time, breastfeeding women were encouraged to drink a little alcohol to help increase their milk supply and encourage the let-down of milk at feeding time. But in recent times, this message has changed significantly as researchers study the long-term effects of even small amounts of alcohol while breastfeeding.
So exactly how much, if any, alcohol can a breastfeeding mum drink and feel safe in the knowledge that she isn’t damaging her precious bundle’s long-term health?
The effects of alcohol on breast milk
It takes about half an hour for alcohol to reach your breast milk. After 30 minutes, one standard drink:
- Will change the smell of your breast milk
- Will have a mildly sedating effect on your baby when he drinks your breast milk
- May help the let-down reflex due to the relaxing effect of alcohol
Alcohol appears in breast milk at approximately the same levels as the mother’s bloodstream, so blood alcohol reading will give you a fairly accurate idea of the milk alcohol reading.
Alcohol does not stay in breast milk forever, so there is no need to express milk that may be tainted with alcohol only to throw it out. The alcohol in breast milk goes back into the bloodstream as the alcohol leaves the mother’s system. If you wait to breastfeed three to four hours after drinking, your breast milk will have naturally cleared the alcohol. If you plan to drink heavily, you may consider expressing before you start drinking so you have breast milk free of alcohol on hand to feed your baby.
The effect of alcohol on your baby
Babies under the age of three months have a more limited liver function – their liver can process alcohol at about half the rate of your adult liver – and so it is important to take this into consideration when considering a glass of wine with dinner. After about three months of age, your baby’s liver can process alcohol at much the same rate as an adult, so some experts think it wise to not drink alcohol at all until your baby is at least three months old.
Moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol while breastfeeding can have a detrimental effect on your baby in terms of his physical growth and appearance as well as his gross motor skills. For these reasons, as well as the impact heavy drinking can have on your ability to care for your young child responsibly, it is wise to avoid moderate to heavy drinking while breastfeeding.
How much alcohol is safe?
Because people metabolise alcohol differently, it is difficult to say definitively exactly how much alcohol you can consume safely when you are breastfeeding. However, experts mostly agree that when breastfeeding you should drink no more than 1-2 units of alcohol per week, and it is best to stay away from alcohol completely for the first three months of your baby’s life if you can.
Find more relevant articles:
- Discover how much alcohol you can drink during pregnancy
- Learn more about foetal alcohol syndrome
- Alcohol during pregnancy
This article was written by Ella Walsh for Kidspot, New Zealand’s best resource for family health.