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Alcohol and Breast Milk: How much gets passed on to the baby?

Not long ago, I blogged about the question “Can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding?” Today, it’s time to dive deeper and talk about alcohol and breast milk: how much gets passed on to the baby?

alcohol and breast milk how much passes to the baby

Last time, I dispelled the fear that drinking alcohol while nursing would harm the baby. I mentioned that very little alcohol actually passes through into the milk—not near enough to cause baby any problems. It’s time to break down the actual numbers so you can make an educated decision about whether or not drinking while nursing is for you.

First of all, we need to define what a serving of alcohol is. A serving is a drink that contains .6 oz of pure alcohol which equates to:

  • 12 ounces of a beer or wine cooler
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of table wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.

Now, how does that alcohol affect our nursing relationship?

Let me walk you through it.

First, you ingest the drink. The alcohol passes into your bloodstream and milk supply. Over the course of about two hours per drink, your body metabolizes and filters out the alcohol and your blood and milk return to normal. Simple, eh?

The confusion comes in with the amount of alcohol in the blood and milk supply. The percentage of alcohol in both at the legal federal limit for driving is .1%.  One tenth of a percent of your blood and milk is alcohol. Citrus fruits have been tested as having as high as .09% alcohol in them. In most countries, any drink with .05% alcohol can be labeled as non alcoholic because your body filters the alcohol as quickly as you drink it.

So, if you have had a drink or two at a moderate pace with ample food in your stomach, if you nursed your baby, your milk would contain the same or a little more alcohol than fruit juice. Even after a night of binge drinking, your milk would not come close to having as much alcohol as a straight alcoholic drink would.

Some mamas worry that if she ingests any alcohol, she will harm her child if she nurses. As I have shown above, that simply is not true. However, it is always good to follow the rule of thumb that if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed.

I am not saying that if you are not sober enough to drive that your milk will harm your child. I am saying that it may not be safe for you to be caring for your child. The risk of falling asleep while nursing and rolling onto baby or dropping baby increases. Alcohol decreases mom’s reaction times. Mamas who have been drinking should never co-sleep unless they are completely sober.

A quote from Dr. Jack Neuman, a world-famous breastfeeding educator:

A mother should not drink alcohol while breastfeeding. Not true! Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.

How can we safely enjoy a drink while nursing?

  • The safest time to drink, oddly enough, is while you are nursing. The alcohol will not be in your milk supply yet as you are just consuming it.
  • You might choose to time your drink around baby’s sleep schedule. Find that time before a long stretch of sleep where there isn’t a big worry that baby will wake up hungry while you are imbibing.
  • Alcohol levels peak at about 1 hour after drinking. Alcohol levels drop rapidly after that. Nearly all alcohol will be out of the milk supply by two hours after drinking.
  • Some mamas may feel more comfortable using the Milkscreen alcohol test strips to ensure alcohol levels are low. These strips alert when .02% alcohol is present in the milk. They do tend to be quite expensive.
  • Any milk pumped while intoxicated will contain the alcohol and that alcohol will not dissipate like it would in the body. Pumping and dumping will not cause your body to clear the alcohol faster.
  • Be aware of how alcohol affects your individual body. Body weight and composition can vary greatly from person to person and the body’s efficiency at metabolizing alcohol can vary greatly as well.
  • Some parents may feel more comfortable if they have some pumped milk on hand for such occasions.

The decision about consuming alcohol while breastfeeding can seem daunting. Be reassured that it is safe to have a drink now and again while breastfeeding. Share the knowledge—many mamas choose to not breastfeed because they feel it is very limiting in this regard.

Audra Michelle has been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for more than 6 years straight. Her first nursed for 15 months, her second for 14 months, and her third weaned at 27 months! Her first baby girl is thriving on breastmilk and will wean when she chooses.  Audra Michelle is a wife, mother, daughter, girlfriend, Jesus lover, and musician. You can find Audra Michelle blogging at UP and at Naturally Well.

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