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Can I Have An Alcoholic Drink If I'm Breastfeeding? Do I Have To Pump And Dump?

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Updated June 13, 2014

Question: Can I Have An Alcoholic Drink If I'm Breastfeeding? Do I Have To Pump And Dump?
Answer:

Nine months seems like an eternity to women who enjoy their wine and one of the most popular questions that lactation consultants hear is, "Now that the baby is born, can I PLEASE have a drink?" Let's start with three facts about alcohol consumption while breastfeeding, so you can make a stress-free, informed decision.

Fact #1: Alcohol, which shows up quickly in foremilk and in hindmilk, does affect the central nervous system of you and your baby. (Light, occasional drinking is not considered to be a major risk for the breastfeeding mom and baby.) Studies have shown slower motor development in breastfed babies when mom drinks alcohol on a regular, frequent basis.

Fact #2: Milk ejection can be inhibited if alcohol is consumed in large quantities. Alcohol decreases prolactin output, blocks the release of oxytocin, hence reducing milk supply. As a result, the baby's sucking patterns may change where they are sucking more but getting less out, which can cause a great deal of frustration for the two of you.

Fact #3:: Ingesting alcohol will change the flavor of the breast milk. In addition, one study showed that the odor of the milk was different when mothers drank alcohol and that their babies took in less milk, even though they nursed for time periods similar to babies who were not exposed to alcohol in breast milk. The authors of the study believe that the babies were reacting to the odor.

There are also other factors to consider. The following will affect the effect of alcohol on you and your baby:

  • The timing of your drink. Alcohol passes very rapidly between blood and milk. If you have a drink on an empty stomach, peak levels are reached within a half hour to an hour. If you drink while you're eating, you're looking at an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Your weight
  • Your menstrual cycle
  • Your baby's age

Obviously, it's ideal that the breastfeeding mother avoids alcohol altogether, but for most, that's an unrealistic expectation. It is recommended that, if you do intend to have an alcoholic beverage, you nurse the baby before having the drink and then wait at least two hours per drink consumed before putting the baby back to the breast. It is not necessary to "pump and dump" your milk. It does not quicken the removal of alcohol from the milk.

Sources:

Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession. Mosby. Fifth Edition.

Riordan J, Auerbach KG. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. Jones and Bartlett. Second Edition.

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