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Can I Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

If you have recently given birth and have decided to breastfeed your baby, then you probably have a number of questions and concerns.  You may want to ask your midwife or health visitor, but perhaps you are concerned that they might disapprove, particularly if you are asking about drinking alcohol during the time that you are breastfeeding your child.

It is important to remember that anything you put into your body, either during your pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding, can potentially be passed on to your baby.  However, substances such as alcohol will have a much greater impact on the health and development of your baby while you are pregnant, rather than after the birth.  You will most likely have been advised to avoid alcohol for the duration of your pregnancy, but what about once the baby is born?

Breast feeding two little sisters twin girls at same time

What are the effects of alcohol?

The levels of alcohol found in breast milk are similar to those found in the mother’s bloodstream.  Levels will be highest up to an hour after drinking alcohol, or if you have had alcohol with a meal, it will take up to an hour and a half for the levels to peak.

  • Large quantities of alcohol in breast milk may cause your child to be more sleepy than usual, though this is not always the case.
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns are extremely common when alcohol is found in the breast milk, so the baby will most likely be restless and agitated.
  • When alcohol is present, less milk is released from the breast, so the baby will actually receive less milk during each feeding, and as a result will want to be fed more often.  Up to twenty percent reduction in milk volume can occur as a result of alcohol being drunk during breastfeeding.
  • As a result of alcohol being present, the taste of the milk will change.  This may mean that your baby will refuse to feed, as he or she might not like the taste.  This is a fairly common effect that alcohol can have on the milk.

Is it safe to drink alcohol?

While you would be advised not to breastfeed shortly after drinking, it is safe to consume a moderate amount of alcohol.  After consuming alcohol, it will take up to three hours for one unit to leave the breast milk, so if you have any concerns, it would be advisable not to breastfeed during this time.

While a low alcohol intake is fine, breastfeeding women should definitely avoid exceeding the recommended daily guidelines of two or three units.  Regularly exceeding this will be harmful to both you and your child, so binge drinking or having a high regular intake of alcohol should be avoided.  If you can restrict your intake of alcohol to social events, and avoid drinking to excess on these occasions, this would be best.

If you have had excessive amounts to drink, then you would be advised not to breastfeed for at least twelve hours, to allow time for the levels of alcohol in the milk to fall.  This will happen naturally as the alcohol level in the bloodstream falls.

Know your own limits

You may be happier avoiding alcohol completely for the time that you are breastfeeding, and this is entirely up to you.  However, being sensible about when you drink is just as important.  Shortly after a feed would be the best time to consume alcohol, as this will give your body time to process and remove it before the next feed is due.  It is also advisable to drink with a meal, instead of on an empty stomach.

If you can avoid alcohol for at least two days every week, then this is recommended.  This means that you are less likely to become reliant on alcohol as a means of getting through the day.

What is best for the child?

It has been suggested that women who want to drink alcohol again after the birth of their child should avoid breastfeeding and use formula milk instead.  However, there is no reason why you would need to do this if you are sensible with the amount you drink and when you next breastfeed your baby.  Even if you do consume the recommended limit of two units per day, breastfeeding means that your baby can still benefit from the other health advantages it offers.  Breastfeeding and alcohol can mix, as long as you are sensible about it and know your limits.

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