You spent 9 months steering clear of the wine (or mostly), and now that baby has arrived, you’re wondering if alcohol and breastfeeding can ever mix.

And the answer is… sometimes. Sort of. Yes. But, wait, no.

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there! It’s no wonder that moms feel confused about whether it’s ever ok to have a drink while their baby or toddler is continuing to nurse.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

When it comes to drinking while breastfeeding, moderation is key. A single drink is unlikely to affect your baby, especially if you time your drink well. (Like after dinner when baby is sleeping.)

Some moms have their drink while or right after baby is nursing. This way, by the time the alcohol gets into her bloodstream (and milk), baby is already finished and won’t need to nurse for at least couple of hours.

According to the La Leche League’s Ultimate Book of Breastfeeding Answers:

“Alcohol passes freely into mother’s milk and has been found to peak about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, 60 to 90 minutes when taken with food. Alcohol also freely passes out of a mother’s milk and her system.

It takes a 120 pound woman about two to three hours to eliminate from her body the alcohol in one serving of beer or wine…the more alcohol that is consumed, the longer it takes for it to be eliminated. It takes up to 13 hours for a 120 pound woman to eliminate the alcohol from one high-alcohol drink.

The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount the mother consumes.”

The slower you drink, the less alcohol you will have in your bloodstream at one time. Also consider the kind of drink you are having. Hard liquor (high-alcohol) will contain more alcohol and take much longer to clear from your system.

Can I drink more if I pump and dump?

Alcohol is present in the breastmilk at the same rate as it is present in the bloodstream. That means that you can’t just pump the alcoholic milk out and have clean milk for baby while you are still buzzing. Your milk will continue to be as saturated as your bloodstream is.

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How will I know if it’s safe to nurse baby?

The general rule is that if you wouldn’t drive, you shouldn’t feed your baby. You may find it reassuring to use alcohol test strips like these ones when you have a drink so you can be sure there is no alcohol in your breastmilk. You’ll start to get the hang of how you feel in relation to how safe you milk is. Note that these strips will signal any amount of alcohol in the breastmilk, not just large amounts.

What should I do if I drink too much?

Wait it out. Once you are feeling sober again you can resume nursing your baby. If your infant gets hungry before this time, feed him a bottle (or finger feed) from your freezer stash. To keep your milk supply up, you may want to pump to send your body the signal that it’s meal time for baby. This is when you would want to “pump and dump,” since the milk won’t be safe to save for baby.

For older babies and toddlers, you can usually just wait on a nursing session. After the first few months, baby can usually go a while (5+ hours) without nursing. Just remember that if you use up that stretch during the day, he is likely to nurse often through the night to catch up. On the other hand, he may want to nurse if you feed him a bottle because he wants closeness and extra skin-to-skin time. Just ask any working mom. Babies who don’t nurse during the day tend to make up for it at night and on weekends.

What if I can’t stop drinking?

If you find yourself craving more and more alcohol and it’s affecting your breastfeeding relationship regularly, it may be time to check in with a counselor or visit an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. Feelings of regret, shame or intense crave are not healthy and need to be addressed immediately.

Drinking and breastfeeding bottom line

An occasional drink is fine. Have your drink while baby nurses so you’ll have lots of time to metabolize the alcohol before baby nurses again. If you feel ok to drive, you’re generally ok to nurse.

Keep in mind that “ok to drive” equates to about 1.5-2 servings of beer or wine.

No need to pump and dump unless you need to keep up supply.

There you have it!

How about you?

What did your doctor tell you about alcohol and breastfeeding? Under what circumstances have you pumped and dumped?