Alcohol and breastfeeding: What you need to know

After months of abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy, it’s natural to feel like a glass of bubbles is deserved, so let’s sort fact from fiction when it comes to breastfeeding and alcohol. 

When it comes to breastfeeding, there are nearly as many myths around as there are credible sources of information. This is especially the case when it comes to alcohol and breastfeeding, with some uncertainty about when it’s OK, how much is OK and whether it’s OK at all.

Breastfeeding and alcohol, do they mix?

Based on the best available research, the Department of Health advises that breastfeeding and alcohol should not be mixed, and the safest option is to not drink alcohol while breastfeeding. Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding may affect breastmilk production, causing babies to eat and sleep less. Alcohol can also affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord development after birth. 

“Alcohol will get into breastmilk - there’s no question about that,” says Dr Bernadette White, an obstetrician at Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital for Women. “Alcohol is probably best avoided when breastfeeding.”

However, if you have something special coming up or simply feel like the occasional glass of bubbles the Department of Health offers some helpful tips, advising mums to:If you choose to drink after• Not drink alcohol for the first month after baby’s arrival and until breastfeeding is well established

  • Not drink alcohol for the first month after baby’s arrival and until breastfeeding is well established
  • If you choose to drink after that, limit it to no more than two standard drinks a day
  • Avoid alcohol immediately before breastfeeding

Alcohol gets into your bloodstream and moves into the breastmilk around 30 to 60 minutes after your first sip from that champagne glass. The amount of alcohol in your breastmilk depends on a variety of factors including your weight, the strength of alcohol in your drink, the speed at which you’re drinking and how much you’ve had to eat that day. 

 
A parent is feeding their baby with expressed milk
Alcohol gets into your bloodstream and moves into the breastmilk around 30 to 60 minutes after your first sip from that champagne glass. The amount of alcohol in your breastmilk depends on a variety of factors including your weight, the strength of alcohol in your drink, the speed at which you’re drinking and how much you’ve had to eat that day. 

As a general rule, it takes around two hours for a woman to get rid of the alcohol from one standard drink. Downloading the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s Feed Safe app can help you estimate times more accurately based on your weight.

To make sure you’re not breastfeeding alcohol directly to your little one, plan ahead and express milk before you drink alcohol while breastfeeding.

If you drink more alcohol than you had planned, or your baby needs a feed sooner than expected and you’ve run out of expressed milk, it’s OK to breastfeed your baby - breastmilk with a small amount of alcohol is still better for them than artificial milk or not feeding them at all. 

Some people may tell you that ‘pumping and dumping’ or expressing breastmilk and throwing it away will get rid of the alcohol from your breastmilk, but this is untrue as alcohol isn’t ‘stored’ in breastmilk. Just as alcohol leaves your bloodstream over time it will leave your breastmilk over the same period, there’s (unfortunately) no way to speed up the process. Getting familiar with the alcohol and breastfeeding guidelines and then being prepared is your best bet. 
 
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