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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is it ok to consume alcohol while breastfeeding?

    Before I was pregnant I liked to have a glass of wine with my dinner each evening. Now that I have a child, is it ok to resume this or is alcohol strictly prohibited while breastfeeding a baby?
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  • Joy Anderson

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Joy is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist, as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has a special interest in … View Profile

    The safest option is to avoid alcohol as there is not a lot of information about the effects of small amounts on babies. We do know that large amounts are harmful. However, your body (your liver) removes alcohol from your milk over time as it removes it from your blood. Your milk alcohol level is about the same at any point in time to your blood alcohol level. General rule of thumb is that you remove the alcohol per standard drink in about 2 hours (2 standard drinks in 4 hours and so on). In the early days of breastfeeding your baby's feed intervals can be unpredictable, so it is better to avoid all alcohol for about the first 3 months. After that, you could have a standard-sized drink straight after your baby has fed and if it is unlikely that he/she will have another feed for more than 2 hours, the alcohol from that drink will be gone from your milk by the next feed. If it is a choice between breastmilk with a tiny amount of alcohol in it and infant formula, then the breastmilk is less harmful.

  • Arlene is a registered practising dietitian, with a private practice in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, and has built a strong business over the last … View Profile

    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. Breastfeeding women are advised not to drink alcohol, especially while breastfeeding is being established during the first month of the baby’s life
    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.
    Milk ejection can be inhibited if excess 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.
    Ingesting excess alcohol will change the flavour of the breast milk. In addition, one study showed that the odour 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 odour.
    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.

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