Here’s What Really Happens If You Drink And Breastfeed

You’re on vacation with your baby and a cold glass of rosé is calling.

Do you a) prefer a lemonade to catch the gaze of total strangers while you’re judging, or b) treat yourself to a glass of iced goodness (because goddamn motherhood has been hard enough without giving up on it).

Many breastfeeding parents will face a dilemma about drinking at some point and then breastfeeding.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice, and words like ‘harmful’ and ‘your baby’ can understandably cause a lot of anxiety and guilt when used in the same sentence.

But the truth is much more subtle than simply saying: drinking alcohol and then breastfeeding is bad for your baby. Like everything else on this planet, it’s all about moderation.

Comedian Katherine Ryan, 39, has recently garnered the applause of many—but not all—mothers after she posted a photo of her breastfeeding her baby while drinking what looked like a glass of white wine.

One person commented on the photo, “Thank you for showing that it’s okay to drink wine while breastfeeding.”

Another added: “Yes! I remember really struggling with my boyfriend after I had a daughter. [breastfeeding] and the head of breastfeeding support said to me, ‘you’ll be fine, have some wine and relax at the end of the day if you can. This is a green light for me.”

But not everyone was convinced. Another user commented, “Why would anyone risk their little baby’s liver by having to process alcohol?” “Alcohol in a baby is not “good” or smart! To express!!”

So is it okay to drink and breastfeed or not?

Health and lactation experts in the UK – we’re talking about the NHS, La Leche League – agree that the amount of alcohol her baby is drinking is not harmful when a breastfeeding parent drinks occasionally and limits their consumption. And research backs this up.

“The absolute amount of alcohol transferred into milk is generally low, and although we are constantly reviewing research, current research shows that occasional moderate alcohol intake is not considered harmful to breastfed infants,” says the guide on the La Leche League website.

We know that alcohol can pass into breast milk (quite easily) and then to a nursing baby, but a glass of wine is unlikely to cause any problems.

According to NCT, the alcohol in the mother’s blood needs to reach 300mg/100ml before the baby can be slightly sedated. By comparison, it would exceed the 80mg/100ml drink/drive limits in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you’re worried, the NHS recommends that you wait at least two hours after having a drink before breastfeeding your baby, as alcohol should no longer be in your body by then. Alcohol levels are usually highest in breast milk 30-60 minutes after consumption.

Katherine Fisher, who has worked as a lactation consultant for 35 years, tells HuffPost UK: “It’s okay to drink alcohol while breastfeeding. But if you’re addicted to alcohol, you’re putting your baby at risk.”

He adds that this would mean “you drink alcohol all day, every day.”

In the UK it is recognized that regularly drinking above the recommended limits – ie 14 units per week, FYI – can be harmful to you and your baby. Therefore, it is not recommended to consume more than two drinks per day.

Besides the obvious health effects for yourself, drinking above moderate levels has been linked to sleep and developmental problems in infants. It can also reduce your milk supply, meaning your baby gets less food and therefore can affect growth.

There is also the concern that you will not be able to properly care for your child if he is drunk. Studies have linked alcohol use to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

So what can you do if you’re ‘going out’?

If you’re going out at night, it may be helpful to express some milk beforehand so your little one gets plenty of food and doesn’t need to urgently add milk in the middle of the night.

Sometimes you go out for ‘one’ drink, just to turn one drink into three or four. If this is the case, you may want to avoid breastfeeding for two to three hours for every drink you drink. The NHS recommends doing this to allow time for alcohol to leave your breast milk.

But it’s important to note that one study suggests that even in a theoretical binge drinking case, infants would not be exposed to “clinically relevant” amounts of alcohol even if you had to urgently need to feed at 3am.

Some people believe you can ‘pump and dump’ alcohol-contaminated milk into your milking area after drinking to get it out of your system, but this is a myth.

As long as there is alcohol in your system, any newly produced milk will also contain alcohol. As the alcohol level in your body drops, the levels in milk will drop.

“Whether you’re drinking in public or going to a party, you don’t need to pump and empty or any of that,” Fisher says.

However, if you have not breastfed for a while and your breasts are overfilled, you may find pumping helpful – because never fun.


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