Once your baby is born, you’re probably excited to return to eating lots of things you’ve been avoiding during pregnancy. You may have even heard that a little alcohol (particularly beer) can help increase your milk supply. This may have been music to your ears after months without alcohol.

Is this really true, though? (Spoiler alert: It’s a half-truth only.) And is it safe to drink beer while breastfeeding? (In a word, possibly.)

In order to help you make the most informed decision about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, we’ve delved into the research to get you the real facts about whether beer and breastfeeding are a match made in heaven.

We don’t want to be a buzzkill, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the safest option while breastfeeding is not to consume alcohol at all.

But we know life isn’t always that straightforward, so we’ve dug deeper into the research.

At least one 2017 study suggested that if you have well-established milk production and drink in moderation, your little one shouldn’t have negative effects in the first year of life.

It’s important to note, though, that there may be potential long-term effects, particularly from greater exposure to alcohol in breast milk.

A 2018 study showed that 6- and 7-year-old children who had consumed breast milk with alcohol in it as babies didn’t score as well on reasoning tests as other children their age who hadn’t been exposed to alcohol in their milk as babies. More research into this area needs to be done.

So, what’s safe? Well, drinking in moderation (i.e., one standard glass of alcohol) while breastfeeding is likely fine, but more research is still needed. Drinking heavily while breastfeeding likely has some consequences for the baby, but more study needs to be done around this, too.

Chances are someone has encouraged you to have some Guinness to increase your breast milk supply. Where did they get this idea? Are they right?

As far back as 2000 B.C. there are records seeming to show beer being prescribed as a milk-boosting agent, and this idea of alcohol being used for this purpose has been encouraged in numerous cultures for centuries. Low-alcohol beer has even been marketed in the United States — as early as the late 1800s and even today — specifically for lactating women!

However, the research doesn’t necessarily support it actually increasing milk production.

You may be excited to hear that the barley aspect of beer can boost prolactin production. However, the alcohol component of beer decreases milk production and inhibits the milk ejection reflex from letting down as much milk.

According to older — but foundational — research published in 2001, as a result of this inhibited milk ejection reflex, babies consumed approximately 20 percent less breast milk during the first 4 hours after alcohol had been consumed as before, despite spending a similar amount of time on the breast. (Similarly, when parents pumped within 2 hours of consuming alcohol, significantly less milk than normal was obtained.)

A potential solution? An alcohol-free beer! This type of beer provides the galactagogue (milk supply-enhancing) benefits of barley without the negative counter effects of alcohol.

Yes, alcohol does pass into your breast milk.

Excessive alcohol consumption can have an impact on your baby’s sleep patterns and growth/development.

In the short term, you may notice that your baby doesn’t sleep as well after you’ve had alcohol and breastfed. (You may notice that they’re sleepier, but don’t sleep as long.) This is largely the result of impaired REM sleep and increased startling/arousal.

There may also be long-term implications for baby’s development, but that will require more research to know for sure.

One other thing to note is that your baby may notice a change in the taste of your breast milk due to the alcohol and be less enthused about drinking it.

And remember: While drinking only one standard glass of alcohol a day hasn’t been proven harmful to infants (especially if you then wait 2 hours before pumping/feeding), higher levels of drinking can result in interference with letdown.

What this means is that you may actually produce less milk, leaving you with a hungry or frustrated baby.

If you’re a casual drinker who has a beer once or twice a week, there’s probably no reason to pump and dump.

You’ll likely want to take other measures to limit the amount of alcohol passing to the baby through your breast milk, though — such as waiting several hours after drinking alcohol before breastfeeding or pumping.

Pumping and dumping doesn’t remove the alcohol from your bloodstream, so you can’t change the amount of alcohol in your milk even if you pump and dump. Pumping and dumping should only be done for comfort and not as a way to try to metabolize alcohol quicker.

Consider feeding your baby or pumping right before drinking to increase the chances that you’ll have at least 2 hours before needing to pump or feed again.

A few other things to consider:

  • If you’re intoxicated, you shouldn’t breastfeed until you’re sober. Depending on how much you plan to drink, you may also need to make sure that you have appropriate child care arranged for your baby (and any other children.)
  • Consider storing some extra breast milk, so that you don’t have to worry if your baby needs to eat before the beer has had time to metabolize out of your body and milk.
  • There’s some evidence that alcohol metabolizes faster if you’re breastfeeding, so you may find yourself feeling the effects of that beer quicker. Eating food before drinking may help with this.
  • Alcohol levels in breast milk are similar to blood alcohol levels. The highest levels of alcohol in breast milk are typically found 30 to 60 minutes after drinking (though eating food can delay this peak). Avoid pumping or breastfeeding if at all possible during this time.
  • If at all possible, wait 2 hours after consuming a 12-ounce beer to breastfeed. If you drink more than one beer, wait 2 additional hours for each additional drink.
  • A newborn has an immature liver, so will be most affected by any alcohol in breast milk. Babies of all ages metabolize alcohol slower than adults though, so the effects of alcohol in a baby’s system typically last longer.

If you’re considering drinking a beer because your breast milk supply isn’t as much as you’d like, keep in mind the principle of supply and demand. The more milk your baby (or pump) sucks from your breast, the more milk your breast should begin to create.

If you do decide to drink beer while breastfeeding, do so in informed and responsible ways — limit yourself to one drink a day, and avoid breastfeeding or pumping until at least 2 hours have passed since you had alcohol.