Many people believe that if you are a breastfeeding mother, drinking alcohol is off the table. This is not true, though. Light drinking a few times a week is usually fine. Know the facts about breast milk and alcohol, and you will be able to enjoy a beer or glass of wine without worry.
The Myth of Pump and Dump
For a long time, there has been the idea that if you drank any alcohol at all, you would need to pump your milk and throw it away. This idea is based on several false assumptions. Your body does not make a quantity of milk that is then stored in your breasts in a static state. Your breastmilk is a living fluid that changes over time and as your body changes. Your body metabolizes alcohol over a period of time, this is why you can drink and then the alcohol will show up in your blood for a while after. But after several hours (depending on how much you drank, if you have eaten food, your body weight, etc.) the alcohol will not show up in your blood. Your body metabolizes alcohol in your breastmilk in the same way. Alcohol will show up in your breastmilk for a while after you drink, and then it won’t after your body has metabolized the alcohol out.
How long it takes for the alcohol to disappear from your bloodstream and your milk varies widely. There are many factors, such as the mother’s body weight and what kinds of drink(s) she is having and how far apart they are spaced. A 160 pound mother having 1-2 servings of wine or beer and the same mother having 1-2 servings of higher concentration liquor based drinks will have much different blood and breastmilk alcohol levels.
Timing can be important too. If your baby breastfeeds every couple of hours, having a drink right after your baby nurses means that by the time they nurse again, your blood and breastmilk alcohol levels will most likely be back to zero.
A good general rule of thumb is that if you feel okay to drive, you are probably okay to breastfeed.
An important thing to keep in mind is you should not bed-share with your baby if you are under the influence of any kind of mind-altering substance, including alcohol and prescription medications. Review bed-sharing guidelines and make sure you are being safe. Anything that would alter your ability to be aware of your baby during the night can be dangerous.
Breastfeeding mothers have a very special and unique awareness of their infants at night. However, this is only true if you are not under the influence. If you have had a few extra drinks or need to take a medication that alters your awareness, a crib or bassinet in the same room as you is a much safer option.
When You Do Need to Wait to Nurse
There are some instances when you do want to wait to nurse. Most of us have some times here and there when we want to drink more than 1-2 servings of alcohol. As long as this is occasional, it is nothing to be concerned about. You will need to wait to nurse your baby until you no longer feel the effects of the alcohol. You or someone else can feed your baby with a bottle and previously pumped breast milk in this situation.
As with many things having to do with breastfeeding, knowing the facts about alcohol and breastfeeding is very important. There are many misunderstandings about breastfeeding which can make it harder to be a breastfeeding mother. Arm yourself with reliable sources of information, such as this website and La Leche League International, so that you can make informed decisions about what is best for you and your baby. It is nice to know that you can relax with a few beers or glasses of wine and still do what is best for your baby.