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After 9 long months — or even more, depending on how long you tried to get pregnant — of abstaining from alcohol, you might feel ready to relax with a long overdue glass of wine or a date night out with your partner.

But if you’re breastfeeding your baby, you may be concerned about the effects that glass of vino could have on your little one.

In reality, many women consume alcohol while breastfeeding — approximately 50 percent of breastfeeding women in Western countries report drinking alcohol occasionally or more often. You may have even heard that beer (or alcohol in general) is actually good for your milk production.

The guidelines for drinking alcohol while breastfeeding aren’t quite as concrete as they are for pregnancy (where no amount of alcohol is considered safe), and you may hear more varied advice from your friends.

Let’s look at the science-based recommendations for breastfeeding moms regarding alcohol, the effects of alcohol on your milk, and the possible effects on your baby.

Key points about drinking while breastfeeding

  • It should be occasional.
  • It should be moderate.
  • Wait 2 hours after a drink to breastfeed your baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that alcohol intake by a breastfeeding mom who chooses to drink should only be occasional.

This group also recommends drinking no more than a moderate amount of alcohol at one time, which for a 130-lb. woman is equivalent to 2 ounces of liquor, 8 ounces of wine, or two beers. They also recommend that you wait 2 hours or more after drinking alcohol before you breastfeed your baby.

“The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount the mother ingests. When the breastfeeding mother drinks occasionally or limits her consumption to one drink or less per day, the amount of alcohol her baby receives has not been proven to be harmful.”

— The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, a book published by La Leche League

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers. However, moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the infant.”

In 2013, a group of Danish researchers conducted a review of literature evaluating the results from 41 previous studies about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.

Their conclusion was that the effects of long-term exposure to alcohol through breastfeeding aren’t known for sure.

However, their research indicated that if a breastfeeding mom doesn’t exceed the amount of alcohol considered safe for all women (one drink per day), her baby shouldn’t be exposed to enough alcohol to have any harmful effect. Because of this, they stated that special precautions for breastfeeding mothers aren’t necessary.

However, other experts, such as those at the Mayo Clinic, state that there’s no amount of alcohol that has been proven safe for a baby to drink. (Yes, you read that right — for a baby to drink.) So if you’re going to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, they recommend that you plan carefully so that your baby isn’t exposed.

Let’s look at the effects of alcohol on milk so the Mayo Clinic’s advice makes a little more sense.

Alcohol passes freely and quickly from your bloodstream into your milk. So at any given time, the concentration of alcohol in your milk is similar to the concentration of alcohol in your blood. The question is — what is that proportion?

Studies on the concentration of alcohol in breast milk have demonstrated that it’s only a fraction of the amount of alcohol that mom actually drinks — about 5 to 6 percent of the weight-adjusted dose.

Just like your blood alcohol level, breast milk alcohol levels are highest about 30 to 60 minutes after a single drink.

The more you drink, the longer the alcohol stays in your bloodstream — and milk — and the higher the concentration becomes.

How quickly you metabolize alcohol is affected by your weight and your body composition.

If you have one drink, most of the alcohol should be out of your system in about 2 to 3 hours, although this can vary.

There has been some rumor that babies don’t like the taste of alcohol in breast milk and therefore will feed less, but studies have shown mixed results on this.

Babies up to the age of 3 months metabolize alcohol at half the speed an adult does, according to the La Leche League. Even older babies process alcohol more slowly than adults do. Your baby also has an immature liver and rapidly developing brain, which may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

Having an occasional drink hasn’t been proven to have any harmful effects on nursing babies. This doesn’t mean there are no harmful effects, just that there isn’t any solid scientific evidence that confirms one way or the other.

Daily consumption of more than one drink per day or excessive drinking by a breastfeeding mother likely contributes to poor weight gain, disrupted sleep patterns, psychomotor skills delay, and possibly even cognitive delay later in life.

Babies may drink up to 20 percent less milk in the 3 to 4 hours after mom has had a drink. They also can have disrupted sleeping patterns after even one drink, and babies whose moms are light drinkers may sleep less than average.

A large study published in 2018 showed a connection between moms who drank while breastfeeding and lower cognitive scores when their children were 6 to 7 years old.

Researchers also found that babies who weren’t breastfed, but whose mothers drank, did not have lower cognitive scores. They concluded that this means that the actual alcohol exposure through the breast milk was responsible for the cognitive changes, and not just other factors related to moms who drink.

Animal studies have also supported these findings. But it’s not yet known if the impact on brain development would be due to the actual alcohol (ethanol) — or the disruption in sleeping and eating that babies can experience when they ingest alcohol.

More research is needed to clarify and expand on these initial findings.

You may have heard that alcohol can help you relax and promote milk flow, and that beer in particular can increase your milk production.

We wish this were true, but it turns out, it’s probably just an urban legend. A large number of studies have shown that alcohol actually decreases your hormonal response to your baby’s sucking, which means less milk comes out when you nurse your baby after drinking.

Having two or more drinks has been shown to decrease the letdown — milk ejection — reflex of nursing moms. Over time, this can decrease your milk supply overall due to not fully emptying the breast with each feeding.

An older study actually showed a temporary 23 percent reduction in milk volume after the participating moms had just one drink.

And it’s no secret that a large amount of drinking, or being drunk, can impair your ability to safely care for your baby.

While drinking alcohol can be enjoyable, social, and help you relax, it also may add stress as you worry about whether or not it’s safe for your baby.

Pumping — and dumping out — breast milk after you drink alcohol does not get rid of the alcohol in your breast milk.

Alcohol doesn’t stay trapped in your milk, but rather goes up and down according to how much alcohol is in your bloodstream. So as long as there’s alcohol in your blood, there will be alcohol in your milk. If there’s no longer any alcohol in your blood, there will no longer be alcohol in your milk.

If you have two glasses of wine, pump your milk out 30 minutes later, and then nurse your baby an hour later, the new milk you produced in that time will still have alcohol in it, because your blood still has alcohol in it.

The only reason to pump after drinking is for your own physical comfort if your breasts feel too full and it’s not time to nurse your baby yet. (Certainly valid!)

A more effective option is to nurse your baby immediately before having a drink, and then wait 2 to 3 hours (after a single drink) to nurse your baby again.

Avoiding alcohol altogether while breastfeeding may offer more peace of mind — and it’s likely to be safest for breastfeeding babies. Rather than let this get you down, consider some alternatives.

If you choose to avoid alcohol while nursing, there are still ways to relax and enjoy a date or girl’s night out!

There are a number of great mocktail recipes you can try making at home — and your other pregnant or breastfeeding friends will appreciate them too! You can also ask the bartender at your favorite spot to make you something refreshing and non-alcoholic. Not drinking can also give you some extra calories to enjoy a yummy appetizer or dessert. (Win!)

A hot bath, herbal teas, massage, and yoga are other ways you can relax in lieu of having a glass of wine.

The World Health Organization actually states that for all adults, “there is no safe level for drinking alcohol.” They have found that even moderate drinkers notice improved sleep, energy levels, weight control, and decreased risk for a number of diseases (including cancer and high blood pressure) when they stop drinking.

So the silver lining, should you choose to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding, is that you may notice health benefits for yourself as well as your baby.

Alcohol that you drink while breastfeeding does indeed pass into your milk. While only a small percentage reaches your baby, babies metabolize alcohol more slowly than adults.

Drinking some alcohol while breastfeeding may have an impact on your baby’s sleep and milk intake. But no definitive long-term effects have been found in babies whose moms had an occasional drink while breastfeeding.

Drinking more alcohol while breastfeeding can affect milk supply, your baby’s sleep, gross motor development, and possibly long-term development of reasoning skills.

If you drink alcohol while breastfeeding, it’s best to nurse your baby right before having your drink, and then wait 2 hours or more before you nurse your baby again.

Should you choose not to drink alcohol at all while breastfeeding, there are other drink options you can enjoy, and other ways to relax.