Alcohol and Breastfeeding – What You Need to know

You’ve most likely given up drinking alcohol for the nine months you were pregnant so let’s talk about alcohol and breastfeeding. Wouldn’t a cheeky glass of wine every once in a while be nice without having to worry about harming baby?

alcohol and breastfeeding

Alcohol and Breastfeeding Guide

Government Recommendations

Research has shown that drinking 1-2 units of alcohol a week will not harm you baby. A ‘celebratory’ drink once a week is fine i.e one glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail.  Drinking more than this, the effects vary from person to person and it is unknown how much it will effect your baby.  Remember alcohol will affect every woman differently depending on age, weight, how much you’ve had and what you’ve eaten, so it’s difficult to know how much is safe for everyone.

How it Works

Breast milk is created from your blood, so as alcohol enters your blood stream it will pass on to baby. The highest levels can usually be found roughly 1 hour after having a drink. Drinking half a small glass of wine (1 unit) equals two teaspoons of pure alcohol in your blood which can be transferred over to baby. Also alcohol prevents you from producing oxytocin, the hormone which helps you release milk. Regular alcohol intake should be avoided particularly by mums who are having problems with low milk supply.

The Risk

If you breastfeed whilst intoxicated or you abuse alcohol on a regular basis there is a potential risk to your baby. Currently it is known that babies can suffer alcohol intoxication making them very irritable or sleepy, just like a drunk adult. If your baby shows any of these signs after you’ve been drinking they need urgent medical attention.  A baby who regularly exposed to alchol in breast milk may suffer from delayed motor developments. If you are worried about your alcohol intake please speak to your health visitor or doctor for advice.

Breastfeed Safely

The safest way to enjoy a moderate drink is to let baby have a feed or express first. Enjoy your drink and then wait at least 2 hours before you feed or pump again.  If you feel a bit drunk wait until you no longer feel the effect of the alcohol until you feed again. As a rule of thumb wait 2 hours for every unit of alcohol you have had. You can estimate your unit intake from this handy online unit calculator.

Intoxication Advice

If you have has an excess of alcohol then you should ‘pump and dump’ i.e. express instead of feeding baby and throw away the milk, for at least 8 hours after your last drink.

NEVER co-sleep with your baby if you or your partner is drunk.

Plan Ahead

A breast pump can be invaluable if you have plans for a special occasion where there will be alcohol. Pump extra during the week leading up to the event and store it so you have a supply of milk. That way you can pump and dump to relieve any engorgement and baby can still have breast milk whilst the alcohol clears from your body.

Alternatives

If you are worried that alcohol may harm you baby the it is recommended to stay tee-total until baby is weaned. If you drink non-alcoholic drinks it’s unlikely anyone will notice you’re not drinking. Adding a drinks umbrella to your glass always helps with the disguise.

Getting Sober

The only way you can rid your body of alcohol is allowing time for your body to metabolise it. Drinking water, caffeine, exercising or extra expressing will not eliminate the alcohol quicker.

Testing Strips

You can now buy alcohol test strips designed specifically for breast milk which will tell you if it’s safe to feed baby or not. They are  like a breathalyser for your boobs and only need a few drops of your breast milk.  The Milkscreen test strips can detect alcohol at a level of 13.1dg/L or more in your breast milk. This detection level means you may not feel drunk any more but your body still has alcohol in it.

Increasing Milk Supply – Fact or Myth?

Back 30-40 years ago women were encouraged by doctors to drink beer to increase their milk supply. Beer companies would often use breastfeeding mums in posters to advertise their beer. This old wives tale does have some truth behind. That’s because yeast and barley stimulate your milk supply hormones. However the alcohol counteracts the effects by suppressing your supply. If you find drinking beer helps your supply, a non-alcoholic version will work just as well. If you are worried about milk supply you are best to concentrate on a good diet and regular breastfeeding. Or you can read our top 10 tips to increase your milk supply.

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