Alcohol and breastfeeding: What you need to know

Alcohol and breastfeeding: What you need to know

Understanding how lifestyle choices, like consuming alcohol, can affect your baby can be confusing. Many breastfeeding mothers wonder if it's safe to have a drink and how it might impact their breast milk and baby. Let's dive into the facts, with Courtney from Mama Linc. Courtney is mama to three, an IBCLC, registered nurse and sleep consultant.  

When a mother consumes one standard drink, a small percentage of that alcohol makes its way into her breastmilk. Studies suggest that approximately 2% of the alcohol consumed reaches the milk. This percentage can be influenced by several factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, the mother's body weight, her body fat percentage, and whether she's eaten food. It is also important to remember that this refers to a standard drink, which is around 100ml of wine or one 330ml bottle of beer (depending on the strength). 

Courtney explains, while there is a lot of conflicting information on the topic the CDC states “moderate alcohol consumption by a breastfeeding mother (up to 1 standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours after a standard drink before nursing.” 

Alcohol peak and clearance 

When a breastfeeding mother consumes alcohol, it's important to understand how and when alcohol levels peak in her bloodstream and breastmilk. Typically, alcohol reaches its highest concentration about 30 minutes to an hour after having a drink.  

Given that alcohol levels peak and then gradually decrease in the blood and breastmilk, mothers plan their feeding sessions accordingly. Alcohol is metabolised at a rate of about 2 hours per standard drink, but this rate can be faster or slower depending on individual factors like overall health, liver function, and whether the alcohol was consumed with food.  

The Australian Breastfeeding Association [ABA] suggest to minimise the amount of alcohol passed to the baby through breastmilk, mothers can consider breastfeeding just before having a drink or waiting 2-3 hours per drink before the next breastfeeding session. This approach allows time for the alcohol to be metabolised and cleared from the bloodstream and, consequently, the breastmilk. Courtney shares “It’s also helpful to remember that when alcohol leaves the bloodstream, it also leaves your breastmilk.” 

Pumping and dumping: A myth 

There's a common misconception that pumping and dumping breast milk after drinking alcohol can speed up the elimination of alcohol from the milk. However, this is not the case. Alcohol does not accumulate in breastmilk; it leaves the milk as it leaves the blood. So, when your blood alcohol levels return to normal, so do your milk alcohol levels. In this instance Courtney suggests “Breastmilk should never be wasted, there’s always a use for your milk even if you can’t feed it to your baby. You may need to pump while drinking to keep up your supply but you can simply save that milk for milk baths. Breast milk is so good for your baby’s skin.”  

The impact of alcohol on milk production 

The belief that consuming dark beer, such as Guinness, can boost milk supply is a longstanding one, often passed down through generations. This idea stems from the ingredients used in these beers, particularly barley. However, it's essential to understand that this is more of a folk remedy than a scientifically proven fact. While barley and other components in beer might have some lactogenic properties, the alcohol content in beer complicates this picture. 

Alcohol, regardless of the form it's consumed in, has been shown to potentially decrease milk production. Studies have indicated that alcohol can inhibit the milk let-down reflex when consumed in excess, which is crucial for successful breastfeeding. 

The feed safe app 

For mothers looking for guidance, the Feed Safe app, developed by the Australian Breastfeeding Association in collaboration with researchers, provides valuable information. It helps calculate how long it takes for alcohol to leave your breast milk, offering a personalised and practical tool for breastfeeding mothers who choose to drink alcohol.