You've spent nine-ish months abstaining from alcohol. Now your baby is earthside and you've been dreaming about unwinding with a glass of wine after your little one's early bedtime. But should you? While the need to pump and dump your milk after drinking alcohol is a myth, there is still a possibility that alcohol consumption can affect your milk supply.
If you're breastfeeding and wondering whether or not it's safe to drink alcohol, you're not alone. Here are some of your top questions about alcohol and breastfeeding, answered.
Does alcohol affect your milk supply?
You may have heard that certain types of beer can increase your milk supply. This is true, sort of—studies have found that a sugar in the barley that beer is made from can increase the hormone prolactin, which is involved in triggering letdown, or the release of breast milk.
However, in general, research has found that alcohol can slightly decrease your breastmilk production.
And, alcohol may also temporarily change the flavor and smell of your milk, which can impact how much your baby eats—babies tend to nurse slightly more but take in less breast milk after their moms drink.
Does alcohol get into breast milk?
Yes—about 2% of the alcohol consumed gets into your breastmilk.
The alcohol amount in your breast milk peaks about 30 to 60 minutes after you drink, (60 to 90 minutes if you drink while eating).
Essentially, if you feel buzzed or drunk, alcohol is in your breastmilk. When you are feeling sober, your breastmilk is safe.
How does alcohol affect your baby?
When thinking about this, first consider how old your baby is. A newborn's brand new liver will have a harder time processing alcohol than an older baby's. Starting at around 3 months old, a baby's liver is working at full capacity and can process things more like an adult's can. It's even more functional at 6 months of age.
Regular exposure to alcohol in breast milk—such as when a mother drinks every day— has been found to cause a decrease an infant's weight gain, and can possibly lead to developmental delays. And, one study found that babies slept less in the hours after consuming breastmilk with alcohol in it.
But no long-term effects have been found from occasional drinking.
What's the deal with pumping and dumping?
In the context of drinking alcohol, pumping and dumping is when a breastfeeding woman pumps her milk after she drinks, and then dumps it out or throws it away.
The good news is you really almost never actually have to do this.
Once the alcohol is out of your bloodstream, it's out of your breastmilk—it doesn't linger in your breasts until they are emptied.
Pumping also won't speed up the rate that the alcohol is processed by your body. Your liver is handling all that.
It's important to empty your breasts at regular intervals to maintain your milk supply (and for your comfort), so pumping and dumping can be ideal for this when you're drinking.
Say, for example, you're attending a wedding, and your baby is home with Grandma. If you are used to nursing every 3 hours, you should try to pump every 3 hours when you are away from your baby. If the milk you pump has alcohol in it, dump it. If not, save it and add it to your freezer stash when you get home.
OK, but... can I drink?
Dr. Jack Newman of La Leche League International says, “Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all... very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers." *Buys Dr. Jack Newman a beer.*
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that the “ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake [which is approximately]... 2 oz liquor, 8 oz wine, or 2 beers."
AAP also states that “nursing should take place two hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk."
All this to say that for the most part, drinking in moderation when you are breastfeeding is OK.
I am not one to tell you what to do with your body, so instead I'll tell you what I decided to do with mine when I was breastfeeding my three babies.
I had a few glasses of wine a week. I'd nurse the baby, then sit down to dinner with a glass of wine. That way, by the time the baby was hungry again, the effects of the wine were worn off—my body had metabolized it.
If one glass turned into two glasses of wine (which happened a few times... ), and the baby got hungry while I could still feel the effects of the wine, I would pump and dump if it was time to feed, and ask my husband to instead give them a bottle of previously pumped breastmilk from the freezer.
Certainly, this comes with caveats. Some babies may be more sensitive than others to alcohol, so it's a good idea to check in with your doctor about their recommendations first.
And, it's important to think about safety—if you're drinking, never drive and make sure that someone sober is on hand to take care of the baby.
Koletzko B, Lehner F. Beer and breastfeeding. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2000;478:23-28. doi:10.1007/0-306-46830-1_2
La Leche League International. Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding. Updated March 2021.
Mennella J. Alcohol's effect on lactation. Alcohol Research & Health. 2001;25(3):230.
Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. The transfer of alcohol to human milk. Effects on flavor and the infant's behavior. N Engl J Med. 1991;325(14):981-985. doi:10.1056/NEJM199110033251401
Mennella JA, Gerrish CJ. Effects of exposure to alcohol in mother's milk on infant sleep. Pediatrics. 1998 May 1;101(5):e2-.