As a breastfeeding mom of many years, and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) who has worked with hundreds of moms and babies, there is nothing that makes me more ragey than when incorrect information about breastfeeding gets passed around. And yet it happens all. the. dang. time.
Let’s talk about a breastfeeding misconception that I have seen floating around a lot lately — whether or not a breastfeeding mom can drink. You see this question come up often among breastfeeding moms—in breastfeeding support groups (online or in person), in comments sections of Facebook articles (ahem), or anywhere where breastfeeding moms convene.
You’d think that the answer would be common enough knowledge (and I honestly thought pretty much everyone knew the gist at this point), but it seems like everyone and their mother (literally) has a different take on it.
So, what the deal? Can a nursing mom put up her feet with a nice glass of wine at the end of her long day? Can she pop open a beer during a lazy Sunday afternoon? How about a few drinks at a wedding?
The answer is a resounding YES, SHE CAN. With one caveat: in moderation.
And now let’s talk about what that means exactly.
First of all, most health professionals agree that drinking alcohol while pregnant is a pretty unequivocal no-no. Perhaps it’s because this fact has been well known for years that some women assume that the same rule applies to breastfeeding. But it’s important to understand that the way that alcohol affects a baby in utero is quite different than how it affects a baby through breastmilk.
As Kellymom.com (an evidence-based website written by a lactation consultant) points out, only 2% of the alcohol you consume makes it into your milk. Alcohol peaks in your milk about ½-1 hour after you drink, and doesn’t accumulate. So, once you are sober, your milk is also free of alcohol. What’s more, the older the baby, the faster the baby will be able to metabolize the alcohol.
Most of us lactation consultants will tell you that, as a general rule, if you’re sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed. Pretty nifty, huh? Some mothers choose to wait until they are completely sober to breastfeed, but certainly not all. Either way, if you drink moderately (like one normal-sized drink), your milk will be alcohol-free within 2 hours or so, which conveniently just so happens to be the interval that many babies nurse.
For this reason, lots of moms will nurse, have a drink, wait for it to clear out of their system, and then be ready to nurse again when their baby is hungry. It is almost never necessary to “pump and dump” unless you are drinking excessively.
Since it’s always a good idea to get the advice of a major medical organization (if possible), in “The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk,” a paper written by The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), alcohol is listed as a “Maternal Medication Usually Compatible With Breastfeeding.” Although the AAP warns that chronic or excessive alcohol consumption could be harmful for babies, and includes other unwanted side effects like slow letdown and decreased milk supply for moms, occasional or moderate drinking is not an issue.
Let’s take a moment to distinguish between “moderate drinking” and “excessive drinking,” shall we? Thankfully, the AAP spells it out pretty clearly in their literature on the subject, saying: “One alcoholic drink—the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, 4-ounce glass of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor—will probably not harm your baby.” They add that “long-term, repeated exposures of infants to alcohol” via breastmilk is unadvisable, and that “chronic consumption” of alcohol is problematic and may even reduce milk supply.
So what does this mean in layperson’s words, for the average breastfeeding mom who wants to know if she can throw back a few drinks at a social event, or sip a much-needed glass of Merlot after her baby finally goes the eff to sleep?
One or two drinks every now and then is totally fine. Truly. You really don’t need to worry about it. Again, go with the “if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to nurse” rule of thumb. And use some common sense. If you are totally smashed, maybe pump and dump for a few hours. If you only had half a beer, are only a little buzzed, and your baby is hungry again, just go ahead and nurse (if that feels right).
I say all of this not just as a lactation consultant, but as a fellow breastfeeding mom and friend. A breastfeeding mom who wants to have a drink every now and then should be able to do that without giving it a second thought. Of course, consulting with your doctor to address any concerns about your baby’s specific health needs is always a wise decision. But for most full-term, healthy babies, there should no issues.
And seriously, breastfeeding is lovely and amazing, but it can be exhausting as all hell sometimes. Breastfeeding moms are freaking entitled to a drink every now and then. So just go with it. Enjoy your baby, enjoy nursing, and for crying out loud, enjoy a nice cold beer or a heavenly glass of wine when you feel like it. Without worry or guilt.
You deserve it.