To mark World Breastfeeding Week we’ve put together some advice on Alcohol and Breastfeeding.
For the health and safe development of their babies, many mothers avoid drinking alcohol while pregnant. However, once your baby is born, you may wish to enjoy a drink with a meal, when out with friends, or on some special occasion.
If you drink alcohol, your breast milk will contain alcohol for a few hours afterwards. If you’re breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option as it eliminates a lot of uncertainty.
Knowing the facts about how alcohol affects breastfeeding will help you decide how to make a safe plan if you do decide to combine breastfeeding with drinking some alcohol.
The Facts about Alcohol and Breastfeeding
How does alcohol affect my breastmilk?
When a breastfeeding mother drinks alcohol it passes into her bloodstream and milk. Alcohol will enter your breastmilk from your blood. The level of alcohol in your milk will be similar to the level of alcohol in your blood.
Alcohol can affect the smell of your breastmilk. The alcohol can affect your baby’s sleep, making them drowsy AND less likely to enter a restful deep sleep. Also, alcohol can negatively affect the supply and flow of your breastmilk.
As a general rule, it can take 2 hours for 1 standard drink (a small glass of wine) to fully leave your body and breastmilk. That means, from when you start drinking, it will take 2 hours for 1 standard drink, 4 hours for 2 standard drinks, 6 hours for 3 standard drinks etc. All this is dependant on your weight and metabolism as well as how quickly you are drinking and the strength and amount of alcohol you take. It’s best to leave as much time as you can between when you had a drink and when you breastfeed your baby.
Alcohol will be in your milk 30-60 minutes after you start drinking. You may also find that your milk flow may not be as strong as usual if there is alcohol in your system but this will return to normal again once your body has cleared the alcohol.
Once you stop drinking the amount of alcohol in your blood will drop, the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk will also drop.
How much can I drink whilst breastfeeding?
It is best to avoid alcohol altogether during the first 6 weeks until a breastfeeding pattern is established. During these first few weeks your baby may have frequent breastfeeds that don’t follow any pattern. This makes it difficult to know with certainty that any alcohol you have taken will have left your breastmilk by the time they are ready for their next feed.
It is important to be aware of and follow the recommended low risk drinking guidelines for women:
- 11 standard drinks spread out over the course of a week, with at least two alcohol free days.
- In Ireland, a standard drink has about 10 grams of pure alcohol in it. In the UK, a standard drink, also called a unit of alcohol, has about 8 grams of pure alcohol.
Here are some examples of an Irish standard drink:
- A pub measure of spirits (35.5ml)
- A small glass of wine (12.5% volume)
- A half pint of normal beer
- An alcopop (275ml bottle)
(A bottle of wine at 12.5% alcohol contains about 7 standard drinks)
The safest option when breastfeeding is to avoid alcohol. If you do want to have a drink whilst breastfeeding here are some simple tips for doing so safely:
- Some women decide to pump prior to taking a drink. This way they can put aside a few feeds safe in the knowledge that there is no alcohol in the breastmilk they are giving their baby. Express enough milk ahead of your night out so that your babysitter can give your baby milk if you miss a feed while out or while you are waiting for the amount of alcohol in your milk to drop.
- Keep track of what you are drinking – you will need to know how much you drank to work out when your breastmilk is likely to be safe. (As a general guide, 2 hours for every 1 standard drink)
- When you do drink, make sure to stick to the low risk guidelines. A binge is taking 6 or more standard drinks in one session – that’s the equivalent of 3 small glasses of wine.
- Alternate between non-alcoholic drinks.
- Remember, if you or your partner have been drinking or are taking medication/drugs, do not take your baby into bed with you. If either of you have been drinking and have your baby in bed there is a greater risk of them being hurt.
- Drinking water, resting or ‘pumping and dumping’ will not reduce the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk. Only time will do that!
- If you think you may drink more than you plan to, it is a good idea to arrange for your babysitter or another sober person to stay overnight.
There is more information on alcohol and breastfeeding, and other useful information on alcohol and your health, on the HSE’s AskAboutAlcohol website
If you are finding it hard to regulate your drinking it is important to speak to someone. Talk to your GP. They will be able to give you the support you need.