I totally get it, you have spent at least nine months of your life following strict diet guidelines and probably cutting out foods that you love to benefit the health of your unborn baby. This can be especially difficult when your doctor tells you not to eat deli meat, but all you can think about is your craving for a huge cold cut from your favorite sub shop. These limitations can seem endless when you are pregnant, including things like sushi, deli meant, soft cheese, certain types of fish, and most importantly alcohol. Everyone knows that it is not good to drink alcohol while pregnant, but can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
The short answer to this question is yes you can, and I am going to explain how to drink alcohol while breastfeeding safely.
The impacts of alcohol on an infant
Before we get carried away, I would like to note that just because drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can be done safely, does not mean it is OK to start drinking excessively on a regular basis. Drinking heavily is not safe or healthy for anyone. This post is geared more towards occasional social drinker. Now I want to briefly discuss the effects’ alcohol can have on your baby before diving into how to consume it safely.
Alcohol exposure in infants can contribute to the following:
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty meeting growth and developmental milestones
- Other non-specific health complications
I am sure you were already aware of the fact that alcohol is not good for babies, but now that you have an understanding of some problems it can cause, we can move on to how to drink safely without causing harm to your baby.
How to prepare for a social event
If you get an invitation to a family gathering or other type of social event, you may experience some anxiety and confliction over alcohol. You may want to have a couple drinks but feel guilty thinking about it, or unsure of how to go about it safely. The key to drinking while breastfeeding is preparation. Have a plan in place. It would be ideal to pump enough breast milk to cover a few feeding sessions or have formula ready to supplement with. Regardless if you choose to supplement with formula or use your milk storage, it is important to pump or nurse prior to drinking. Preferably as soon before your first drink as possible. This way you can empty your breasts prior to drinking and will have a longer time frame before having to pump or express your milk again.
Get to the drinking part already!
You have a plan in place with food available for the baby, you made sure to pump or nurse right before grabbing a nice cold alcoholic beverage. Now you have one in your hand, what should you do next? Here are some tips about alcohol and breastfeeding.
- Alcohol does cross into breast milk, but the concentration is not nearly as high as the concentration in your bloodstream.
- Even though the alcohol concentration is lower, you still want to take precautions so that your baby does not consume alcohol. Remember that your baby is very small, so even very small amounts can cause negative side effects’ for her.
- Alcohol clears from breast milk the same way it clears from your blood stream, so 1 standard sized drink will take about an hour to clear. If you have more than one drink, it becomes difficult to calculate how long it will take to clear the body.
- Pay attention to the alcohol content, beverages with a higher alcohol content will cause a higher alcohol concentration in your breast milk. Keep that in mind when making your decisions about what to drink.
- Even if you have more than one drink, you do not necessarily have to pump and dump or discard your expressed breast milk.
- Pumping will not decrease the alcohol level in your breast milk any quicker. If you pump and dump your milk, you still probably won’t be able to pump 20 minutes later and use that milk. The alcohol still needs to go through the process of clearing itself from your body.
- Drink plenty of water, this will help you stay hydrated, and will help you clear the alcohol faster.
The party is over!
Now the party is over and you are ready to go home, but is your breast milk safe to use for your baby yet? If you only had one drink with a lower alcohol content, you should be able to use your breast milk if you wait at least an hour after finishing your drink. If you had more than 1 drink, it gets tricky, if you have that tipsy or drunk feeling at all, it is probably not safe to use your breast milk yet.
There is however a screening method you could use to know for sure if your breast milk is safe for your baby. You can use a test strip that checks for alcohol content. All you have to do is squeeze a small amount of milk onto the end of the strip, if the strip changes color, that means alcohol has been detected and your milk is not safe to give to your baby. After waiting two whole minutes, if the test strip remains the same color, that means no alcohol has been detected in the milk and it is perfectly safe to give to your baby.
I would suggest testing your breast milk with a strip prior to pumping and dumping or feeding your baby. If the strip determines that there is still alcohol in the breast milk you have 1 of 2 options.
You can either express enough milk for comfort purposes and wait until the alcohol clears to fully empty your breasts, or you could pump to empty and discard the milk. That is completely up to you. Breast milk is like liquid gold for most mamas, so the thought of discarding it in large quantities can be very difficult, however not pumping to empty can potentially lead to a clogged milk duct.
What should you take from this post?
- Alcohol can be consumed safely while breastfeeding, if done in moderation with precautions and a plan in place.
- Make sure you have a back up source of food for your baby, and be sure there is enough for at least 12 hours worth of feedings just in case.
- Try to aim for drinks with lower alcohol content
- Test your breast milk to be sure it is safe for your baby to consume!
I hope this post answered your questions about drinking alcohol and breastfeeding! If you have any other questions, comments, or concerns don’t hesitate to shoot me a comment! I will respond accordingly! Thank you for reading!