Lactation & Alcohol Use: What women need to know
We know alcohol during pregnancy can cause problems like poor growth and development, preterm delivery, behavioral disorders, and cognitive disorders, but what happens when a mom drinks alcohol while she is breastfeeding? Does alcohol make its way to the breast milk? Does drinking during lactation carry the same risks as during pregnancy? Is there a safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink while she is breastfeeding?
On August 2nd, our My Baby & Me program hosted a webinar to try and answer these and more questions related to lactation and alcohol use. This commonly misunderstood topic drew a lot of interest, and we had over 100 My Baby & Me providers participate! Led by Dr. Stephanie Slock, Pediatrician and Certified Lactation Consultant with Aurora Health Care, webinar attendees learned how alcohol affects breast milk, what the potential risks are for mom and baby, and how to best educate women on alcohol use during breastfeeding.
How does alcohol work in the body, and does it affect breast milk?
When a mother drinks alcohol, it passes into her breast milk at concentrations similar to those found in her bloodstream and then to baby. Alcohol can change the flavor of breast milk and decrease let-down. There are no studies that show a beer a day enhances lactation performance.
What does this mean for baby?
Exposure to alcohol through breast milk can lead to changes in sleep patterns and decreased milk intake.
How long does it take alcohol to leave a mother’s body before she can safely breastfeed again?
Elimination varies per woman, depending on her weight, tolerance, food intake, timing, etc. In general, it takes about 2 hours per drink until alcohol is cleared from breast milk (1 drink = 12 oz beer, 4 oz wine, 1 oz liquor). The larger the volume of alcohol consumed, the longer it will take to pass out of the body. Dr. Slock referenced this site and table to help healthcare providers counsel their lactating mothers.
Does pumping and dumping get rid of the alcohol faster?
Pumping and dumping does not help your body get rid of alcohol any faster. The purpose of pumping and dumping is to help reduce engorged breasts and keep the mother’s milk supply up if she is missing feedings because of alcohol consumption.
What’s the bottom line?
Abstinence is safest, but may not always be realistic. If a mother chooses to drink while breastfeeding, the amount of alcohol and timing are key! What Dr. Slock tells her patients:
You can safely feed your baby breast milk if you’ve had 2 drinks or less and it’s been 2-3 hours since your last drink.
You should avoid feeding your baby if you have been drinking alcohol and have had more than 2 drinks. Plan to feed baby safely by using previously pumped milk, pumping and dumping if needed to relieve engorgement, and planning accordingly for a sitter or caretaker.
To listen to the entire webinar, a recorded version is available here: https://youtu.be/x2lZSKeG0cs.
If you have questions regarding alcohol use during pregnancy or lactation, please contact Chelsea Tibbetts, My Baby & Me Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.