MLH - Main Line Health Inc.

04/10/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/10/2021 03:41

Can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

After carrying a baby for nine months, many new mothers wonder when they can safely enjoy a glass of alcohol again, and if drinking is even a good idea for those who plan to breastfeed.

Alcohol does get into the breastmilk and can reach the baby. In high amounts, breastmilk containing alcohol can lead to sedation, feeding problems, decreased milk supply and potential development issues.

The good news is that new moms can safely enjoy a drink or two as long as they do so responsibly. Sue Bechhold, a lactation consultant and co-chair of Main Line Health's Lactation Committee, says the safest way for breastfeeding moms to drink is to wait two hours per each drink. If you intend to have more than two drinks, make a plan - pump some milk before you start drinking and call in a caregiver so your baby has plenty of food available and will be well taken care of.

Here's what to know about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.

Can you drink while breastfeeding?

Drinking alcohol doesn't harm the nursing baby as long as it's done sparingly and appropriately, according to Bechhold.

On occasion, one to two drink drinks is fine - you just wouldn't want to fall into a routine where you're regularly drinking a glass or two of alcohol if you're breastfeeding. Only a small percentage of alcohol reaches the baby, but babies metabolize alcohol much more slowly than adults and there can be negative health effects if they're exposed to high amounts.

It's a myth that alcohol can boost breastmilk production. 'Alcohol does not increase your milk production … it can actually decrease your milk production,' says Bechhold. Alcohol can also change the taste of breast milk, so if there's any alcohol in your breastmilk, the baby might not want it, which could cause feeding issues. High levels of alcohol in breastmilk can also sedate the baby and potentially cause sedation respiratory distress.

According to Bechhold, the main takeaway is that you can definitely enjoy an occasional drink while breastfeeding, you just want to do it responsibly.

How long after drinking should you wait to breastfeed?

You never want to be actively drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, says Bechhold. The rule is that you should wait two hours per each drink - a 'drink' being a 12 oz glass of beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or a shot of liquor. If you were to have two drinks, you should wait four hours before breastfeeding.

While drinking, the concentration of alcohol increases in the breastmilk, peaking about an hour after the drink. Bechhold says 'as long as you're still feeling the effects of the drink then it's still in your breastmilk.' When you feel like you're no longer buzzed and totally sober, you'd also be safe to breastfeed your baby again. 'If you're feeling sober enough to drive, you're usually sober enough to breastfeed,' Bechhold said.

Some new mothers may have a lower tolerance to alcohol after abstaining from drinking during their pregnancy. They may feel the effects of even one drink more than they previously would. 'Those people might need to wait a little longer,' says Bechhold.

What about the pump and dump method?

Doctors used to recommend the pump and dump method to breastfeeding mothers drinking alcohol, but Bechhold says it's no longer recommended for new mothers who are drinking. 'The pump and dump is not to get the alcohol out of your breast milk,' Bechhold said.

Pumping and dumping is advisable for people who are uncomfortable and want to relieve breast pain. The pump and dump method is not going to change how much alcohol is in your breastmilk - only time (remember: two hours per drink) can change that.

How to safely drink while breastfeeding

If you intend to have more than two drinks, Bechhold recommends pumping a couple of days before your night out and having a little stash in the freezer that can be used to feed the baby when you're not able to breastfeed. 'You'll want to have a back up option in case your baby is hungry,' Bechhold said.

She also recommends getting a caregiver who can watch the baby if need be, and never sharing a bed with the baby if you have been drinking.

If need be, you can pump to relieve any pain from your breasts. On top of that, try not to drink on an empty stomach and stay hydrated while consuming alcohol.

If you are a chronic or heavy consumer of alcohol, you should not be breastfeeding as this can have poor outcomes on the baby's health and lead to developmental delays, according to Bechhold.

Main Line Health offers informative prenatal breastfeeding classes to learn techniques to get you off to a good start. Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654)or use our secure online appointment request form.