You waited 9 months. Nine. N-I-N-E.
No wine, no beer, no mimosas at your baby shower. You ate right (minus those, ahem, few late-night trips through the drive-thru), went to bed at a reasonable hour, and refrained from taking a dip in the hot tub during your babymoon.
But now your bundle of joy is here, and you’re ready to let your hair down a little. Maybe you’ve got an office holiday party coming up, or you’ll be attending a family gathering where Uncle Jim will be whipping up his spirited eggnog. Or perhaps you just want to ring in the new year with a glass of bubbly.
But wait. You’re breastfeeding. Can you do that?!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quick to point out that not drinking any alcohol is the safest option for the breastfeeding mom and her baby. However (aren’t you glad there’s a however?), a mom’s consumption of up to one standard drink per day—that’s about 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer—is not known to be harmful to her baby, especially if she waits 2–3 hours after finishing the drink before nursing.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
Before any stemware graces your lips, keep these facts in mind when it comes to imbibing.
Fact: Alcohol levels are usually highest in breastmilk 30–60 minutes after ingestion (or 60–90 minutes if drinking with food).
Generally, waiting 2–3 hours after finishing a single drink allows much of the alcohol to clear from your breastmilk. The more you drink—and the less you weigh—the longer it’ll take your body to metabolize the alcohol. For a more specific estimate of how long it may take for your breastmilk to be alcohol-free, check out this handy chart.
Note that our bodies are all different and will metabolize alcohol at varying rates. How fast you consume the alcohol and whether you drink it with food will also affect how long it takes to leave your system, among other factors. If you drink on a full stomach, it will take longer for the alcohol to peak in your breastmilk, but the amount will be lower than if you had nothing to eat.
Some experts say it’s likely safe to nurse as soon as you feel able to drive a car, but alcohol can give us a false sense of our abilities. A better approach may be to use this guideline along with keeping an eye on the clock.
Fact: Alcohol does not get trapped in breastmilk.
As your blood alcohol level decreases over time, so will the amount of alcohol in your milk. The alcohol does not stay in your milk, so “pumping and dumping” will not get rid of the alcohol any faster—nor will drinking lots of water.
If your baby needs to nurse within the 2–3 hours after you’ve had a drink, consider offering a bottle of previously pumped milk. Then, pump to maintain your milk supply and avoid engorgement, and spill out whatever milk you express. Better yet, wait until right after a feeding to have that glass of wine to maximize the chances your baby will not need to nurse again until after the alcohol has had time to clear from your milk.
Fact: The younger the baby, the more of a burden any alcohol will be on the body.
Up until around age 3 months, babies detoxify alcohol at about half the rate of an adult. An older baby can metabolize alcohol more quickly. Allowing plenty of time for your blood alcohol level to decrease may be more critical if you’re nursing a newborn.
Fact: Even moderate alcohol use can be harmful to your baby and affect your milk supply.
Consuming any more than one standard drink per day has been shown to negatively affect nursing babies. Some side effects include decreased milk production in mom and impaired motor development, changes in sleep patterns, and decreased milk intake in baby. If you or someone you know is struggling with excessive alcohol use, contact your health care provider for help.
Testing 1, 2, 3
Now, you may be thinking, “This is a lot to remember. Can’t I just get those test strips Kourtney Kardashian used to check for alcohol in her breastmilk?” Well, one better-known test strip kit gets mixed reviews online. Some moms bemoaned their expense. Others called into question their accuracy, suggesting they may not provide the peace of mind moms are after. If this is the case, allowing time to pass and judging the way you feel may be the cheaper, safer bet.
Give It to Me Straight…Up, That Is
Bottom line, ladies: Based on what we know and by taking a few precautions, you can enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage and still safely breastfeed. And for those who choose not to imbibe but want something festive to drink, see the recipe below for a Sparkling Berry and Pomegranate Mocktail that’s sure to tickle your nose this New Year’s Eve. Cheers!
*We’re not doctors. If you have any questions regarding alcohol consumption while breastfeeding, consult your physician.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol.” Updated March 21, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html (accessed November 2018).
2. Bonyata, K. “Breastfeeding and alcohol.” Updated March 5, 2018. https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/lifestyle/alcohol/ (accessed November 2018).
3. Loren, G. “Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.” Motherisk Update. Canadian Family Physician. January 2002. Vol. 48:39-41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2213923/pdf/11852608.pdf (accessed November 2018).