Can I drink alcohol if I’m breastfeeding?

Your best friend is getting married, and you’d really like to celebrate with them over a glass of wine.

It’s okay to have a glass of wine or beer - or whatever you choose to drink - while you’re breastfeeding - but you should plan ahead.

If you’re drinking alcohol, the same amount of alcohol that makes it into your blood stream makes it into your breastmilk. It’s strongest in your breastmilk 30-90 minutes after you’ve had a drink.

How much alcohol gets into your breastmilk depends on:

  • the strength and amount of alcohol in your drink
  • what and how much you’ve eaten
  • how much you weigh
  • how quickly you’re drinking.

Alcohol will leave your breastmilk when it leaves your bloodstream. Generally speaking, it takes two hours for an average woman to process the alcohol from one standard alcoholic drink consumed over an hour, four hours for two drinks, six hours for three drinks, and so on.

This explains why very high blood alcohol levels can still be recorded several hours after you’re finished drinking.

While the amount that's transferred to your baby if you drink a glass of wine is relatively small, babies are tiny, and their livers aren’t yet mature. This means they can't process the alcohol as well as you can. Babies less than three months old process alcohol at about half the rate of adults.

Alcohol:

  • changes the taste and smell of your breastmilk, and babies will drink less
  • makes babies sleep for a shorter amount of time, even if they fall asleep quicker
  • can impact your baby’s development if you drink regularly.

Plan ahead – pump before you drink

If you have an upcoming event:

  • give yourself plenty of time to pump enough milk to cover feeds while the alcohol leaves your system. You can freeze breastmilk
  • remember carers who’ve been drinking can make less safe decisions for baby - about where their baby sleeps, for example
  • make sure proper sleeping arrangements have been made, and never bed share with your baby if you’ve been drinking
  • make sure there’s a sober adult present who can care for your baby.

Never bed share with your baby if you've been drinking.

If you have an unplanned drink:

  • minimise how much you drink, especially in the first three months of your baby’s life
  • choose low-alcohol drinks
  • eat before and while having a drink
  • try to limit your intake to one drink
  • avoid breastfeeding for two to three hours after drinking if you can
  • feed baby previously-expressed breastmilk if possible.

Unless you’re doing it for comfort reasons, there’s not much point in expressing breastmilk and throwing it out (otherwise known as pumping and dumping). It won’t reduce the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk. Alcohol isn’t stored in the milk in your breasts, and once it’s out of your blood, it’ll be out of your breastmilk too.

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