Kate Tuttle,  BS, IBCLC

We are encouraged by health professionals to refrain from alcohol during pregnancy as it can cause serious side effects to your baby’s health.  After going 40 weeks without a small glass of wine and having a long exhausting day, you might be ready to pour yourself something and relax. But then you remember you are breastfeeding and you are pretty sure you were told you cannot drink alcohol and breastfeed. Fret not! We are here to provide up to date and evidence based information for you. 

I’ll just pump and dump!

We’ve all been told when drinking alcohol or taking medication that pumping your breast milk and discarding it (pumping and dumping) is advised and best practice. But who says? Where is the evidence and research that backs that up? The same question arises when we recall the “wait 2 hours after drinking to feed the baby or pump your milk because alcohol stays in your blood for long periods.” The opposite advice is often given to moms who are nursing and feel like they are struggling with milk supply. The old “a beer will help increase your supply!” piece of advice is a classic.

So what do the experts say? 

Dr. Thomas Hale has published in his book(s) Medications and Mothers’ Milk (18th ed.): “Alcohol transfers into human milk readily, with an average plasma/milk of about 1. This does not necessarily mean the dose of alcohol in milk is high, only that the levels in plasma correspond closely with those in milk. The absolute amount (dose) of alcohol transferred into milk is generally low and is a function of the maternal level.” You can find more on that study here, via La Leche League. Dumping pumped milk will not increase the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from your milk. 

Dr Hale also recommends the “2 hour rule” in his studies and research, which has long been believed to be a solid piece of advice when consuming alcohol. The most updated piece of research in regards to breastfeeding and alcohol from the Academy Of Breastfeeding Medicine has this to say about alcohol consumption and feeding your baby: “Counsel mothers who wish to drink occasional alcohol that alcohol easily transfers into human milk. Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and others advise waiting 90–120 minutes after ingesting alcohol before breastfeeding, or expressing and discarding milk within that time frame.5,6,7,35 (III).” You can read more about The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s alcohol consumption and breastfeeding at the link provided here.

So does beer actually increase supply?

Did you know that alcohol can actually inhibit your letdown reflex? This can cause babies to eat more often but be taking in less milk than normal. Your baby’s age also affects how they are exposed to alcohol in your breast milk. Newborns have a liver that has not matured yet and can create difficulty in breaking down and filtering the alcohol. 

What not to do 

If you decide to have a drink, it is important to note that if you are feeling disoriented from consuming alcohol you need to have someone sober to care for baby. In order to avoid serious injury to baby, do not bed share and avoid holding and/or feeding while disoriented.

Moral of the story?

1-2 occasional drinks are not going to cause any serious health issues for your baby. Once alcohol is consumed, waiting 90-120 minutes will help ensure there is minimal alcohol content in your milk. You spent 40 weeks growing a human. You can treat yourself to one glass of wine. You’ve got this and we’ve got you. 

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