Will that glass of red affect my baby? The impact of drinking alcohol whilst breastfeeding on your baby isn’t well studied (as you can imagine!). We do know that alcohol freely passes into the maternal milk, with a peak concentration around 30-60 minutes after alcohol ingestion. The alcohol is present in breastmilk at the same levels as it is the blood, so as you metabolise the alcohol the levels in your blood and breastmilk will decrease accordingly (1). This makes pumping and dumping pointless unless it’s to relieve heaving bosoms!
A few studies have looked at the long-term impacts of consuming alcohol whilst lactating, and the results seem unclear. Psychomotor development and growth rate may be affected, however, most of the studies have not been well designed and which makes it difficult to draw conclusions (2). What we do know is that babies have small, immature lives so, as with coffee, they metabolise alcohol at half the rate of an adult, so it’s worth being mindful.
Several studies have looked at the effects of consuming alcohol whilst breastfeeding on the mother. It has been noted that in the first two hours after alcohol consumption (1.8 units – about a medium-sized glass of wine!), women produced around 10% less milk (1,2). This may be because alcohol reduces the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone needed for the let-down reflex. It has also been noted that babies can consume up to 20% less milk after the mother has ingested an alcoholic drink.
Overall, it seems small amounts of alcohol may not be a problem when breastfeeding – you know your body best and how well you handle (metabolise) alcohol. The best time to enjoy a drink would be when you know you don’t need to feed for a couple of hours i.e. when the baby is sleeping. If you have an event where you really want to enjoy a drink or two, then you can always express and store your milk in the run-up to the big night out (my preferred option). Personally, I’m envious of any mama who can go ‘out out’ and cope with little people the next day… the thought of not being in bed by 9 pm gets me in a tizzy!
Finally remember alcohol is a diuretic and can cause dehydration, so keep a trusty large glass of water in your left hand whilst you drink with your right.
- Brown, R.A., Dakkak, H., Seabrook, J.A. 2018. Is breast best? Examining the effects of alcohol and cannabis during lactation. Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, 11, 345-356
- Haastrup, M.B., Pottegard, A., Damkier, P. 2014. Alcohol and breastfeeding. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 114, 168-173