As a new or soon-to-be mom, you're likely aware of the impact of alcohol on a developing fetus during pregnancy. However, with the holiday season upon us, you may be wondering about enjoying that long-awaited glass of red wine while breastfeeding. Let's dive into all you need to know for a joyful and safe breastfeeding experience this holiday season.
How does alcohol affect breast milk?
When you consume alcohol, it enters your bloodstream and passes into breast milk. The alcohol level in your milk mirrors that in your bloodstream. As your blood alcohol content fluctuates, so does the alcohol level in your milk. The CDC defines one standard drink as 5 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of hard liquor, or 12 oz of beer, with occasional consumption considered as 1 standard drink per day.
You may have heard the saying, "If you are okay to drive, then you are okay to breastfeed." In practical terms, an average breastfeeding mom's blood alcohol content (BAC) will be around 0.05% one hour after two standard drinks. Keeping in mind Canada’s legal driving limit is a BAC of 0.08%, a good rule of thumb is if you are feeling tipsy and wouldn’t get behind a wheel, then you should not breastfeed either.
Do I need to pump and dump my milk?
While the level of alcohol in your blood peaks about one hour after consumption, the length of time it can be detected in the blood will depend on many factors including your weight and height, how much you are drinking, how fast drinks are consumed and if you are having food at the same time. Alcohol does not accumulate in your breast milk; as it leaves your blood, it will also leave your milk. Time is the only thing that removes alcohol from your milk, so while you may want to pump for your own physical comfort and to maintain supply, it will not speed up the process of eliminating alcohol from your breast milk.
Is it dangerous for my baby?
According to the CDC, occasional use of alcohol while breastfeeding, i.e. 1 drink per day, has not been shown to have any negative effects on breastfeeding babies. On the other hand, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol may reduce your milk supply. Research shows that excessive alcohol consumption suppresses prolactin and oxytocin, the two hormones responsible for milk production and release. Here are some considerations you can take when it comes to making safe choices for you and your baby:
1. Breastfeed just prior to having a drink, so the amount of alcohol in your milk is minimal or non-detectable for your next feeding.
2. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Food will help reduce the absorption of alcohol in your blood.
3. If you plan for a night of heavy drinking, it is a good idea to pump in advance and build a freezer stash or to supplement with formula.
4. Do not bed share after drinking. Alcohol reduces responsiveness and awareness, and bed sharing increases the risk of injuries or suffocation.
5. Most importantly, ensure that your baby is safe and there is someone sober that can care for them when you are unable to.
Having a plan for keeping yourself and your baby safe will allow you to responsibly enjoy a cocktail or two over the holidays. You can always speak to a lactation consultant to help you make informed decisions whenever you have questions about your breastfeeding journey.