Recently, I celebrated a birthday with a friend who had just had a baby. She was turning twenty-seven, and her newborn baby was with the grandparents for the evening. She explained that she hadn’t had alcohol since her baby was born three months ago, and she was excited to crack open a bottle of wine. I assumed she was abstaining from drinking to make sure her baby always had proper supervision, but she actually explained that she wasn’t drinking so that her breast milk wouldn’t be negatively affected. I had never heard of anyone avoiding alcohol so that it didn’t end up in her breast milk, but it did make perfect sense. I decided to research the topic further, and experts do in fact recommend that women avoid breastfeeding immediately after drinking. However, you don’t have to totally abstain from wine, beer or even hard liquor when you’re breastfeeding – you just have to make sure you time each act so that they don’t interfere with each other.

Even just a glass of wine will make your blood alcohol level too high for breastfeeding. Though you might not feel the alcohol from the wine you consumed, your baby’s body will be affected because his or her liver is still very small and developing. One study showed that baby’s who were breast fed by mothers consuming at least one alcoholic drink daily had lagging gross motor development by the time they were one year old. 

If you’re breastfeeding, you don’t have to completely avoid alcohol. After you have an alcoholic drink, the alcohol is most prevalent in your system approximately thirty minutes after you’ve finished it. So, if you have a glass of wine or cocktail, wait at least two hours to breastfeed your baby. To make sure it takes as little time as possible, never drink on any empty stomach. The food will help your body process the alcohol more quickly and fully. If the timing interferes with your baby’s regular feeding schedule, plan ahead by pumping your breast milk before you drink and nurse your baby by bottle when it’s time. If you’ve had a few drinks and didn’t plan ahead, it might be a good idea to have formula on hand so that your baby doesn’t go hungry. Of course, your doctor should first approve any such changes in your baby’s eating so that they don’t cause any problems.

Source: Angela Brown et al: Alcohol and Breastfeeding. Nursing for Women Volume 14 Issue 6 pp. 454-461 January 2011

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