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Can You Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

An occasional drink is OK, and you can safely nurse your baby after the alcohol has left your breast milk

Female breast feeding baby

It’s a sunny day, and a cold beer on your back patio sounds so tempting. But you’re still in the phase of breastfeeding your baby, and you’ve heard that when you drink alcohol, some of it transfers to your breast milk.

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Some parents breastfeed (chestfeed) their children for months or even years. Does this mean you have to give up alcohol entirely while you’re nursing your baby? What if you want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two before they’ve weaned?

Obstetrician Kathryn Newton, MD, says it’s all about planning in advance, understanding your body and drinking responsibly, “You can consume some alcohol if you know how to time it and how much you can safely consume,” she says.

Here’s what you need to know about alcohol and breastfeeding, including how to keep your baby safe if you decide to have a drink.

How much is safe to drink when you’re breastfeeding?

It takes about two hours for the average adult to metabolize one drink. But what does “metabolize” mean, exactly?

“It’s how long your body needs to process it and break it down in your system,” Dr. Newton explains. “Once you’ve metabolized the alcohol, it’s out of your breast milk, too.”

Based on metabolization math and recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you can breastfeed about two hours after you’ve finished one drink. If you’ve had two drinks, wait four to five hours.

In other words, if there’s still alcohol in your system, there’s still alcohol in your breast milk. You should not nurse until you feel “neurologically normal” — your everyday self, not at all tipsy or buzzed.

“The level of alcohol in your milk mimics the amount in your blood,” Dr. Newton states. “If your blood alcohol content is 0.10%, your breast milk will be the same level. So, as your blood alcohol content drops, your breast milk alcohol content drops, too.”

One drink doesn’t mean one glass

Light beer or craft cocktail? White wine or summer seltzer? When you’re breastfeeding and want to have a drink, pay careful attention to the choices you make.

Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day. But one drink doesn’t always mean one glass. One standard drink is:

  • 12 oz. of 5% ABV beer (about one can).
  • 8 oz. of 7% ABV malt liquor (around the size of a standard drinking glass).
  • 5 oz. of 12% ABV wine (one glass).
  • 1.5 oz. of 40% ABV (80-proof) liquor (one shot).

Curious about those percentages? When you’re deciding what to drink, they’re an important piece of the puzzle.

ABV stands for “alcohol by volume,” and it refers to how much alcohol is in a specific measurement of alcoholic beverage. It’s the reason that a shot, while smaller than a beer, is much boozier — and why having one 12-ounce glass of a 9% ABV beer will get you tipsy much faster than one 5% ABV beer.

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“Having one 12-ounce glass of 9% ABV beer is actually like having two drinks, not one,” Dr. Newton points out. “This is important to consider when you’re counting the hours until you can nurse again.”

Can babies get drunk from breastfeeding?

If you nurse your baby too soon after drinking, your baby will consume alcohol through your breast milk. And because babies’ tiny bodies can’t metabolize alcohol as quickly as adults, they have longer exposure to it.

“Your baby probably won’t become drunk from breast milk,” Dr. Newton clarifies, “but if you regularly have more than one drink a day, it can have negative effects on your nursing baby.”

Nursing babies who are regularly exposed to alcohol through breast milk may experience:

  • Developmental and neurological problems.
  • Sleep issues.
  • Trouble gaining weight.

When you should ‘pump and dump’

You might’ve heard that after having a drink, you can pump your breast milk and then throw it away (known as “pumping and dumping”) to ensure safe milk the next time around. But this isn’t true.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that pumping and dumping isn’t a quick solution for getting alcohol out of your breast milk.

“You still need to wait a minimum of two hours for one drink, whether you pump or not,” Dr. Newton stresses.

That said, there are times when the pump-and-dump method can be helpful — namely, to bring you some relief, like if you’re drinking over a longer timeframe. Say you’re attending a wedding. At the beginning of the reception, you have a glass of champagne, and a few hours later, you have one more.

“You’re away from your baby all night, and at some point, you start to become engorged,” Dr. Newton posits. “In those cases, you can pump and dump to relieve your engorgement, but you should throw that milk away because it’s not safe for your baby.”

To produce milk that’s safe for your baby, you’ll still need to wait the appropriate amount of time for the alcohol to metabolize.

Does alcohol affect breast milk production?

If you’re worried that having an alcoholic drink every now and then might affect your ability to produce breast milk, there’s probably no need for concern.

“You can have an occasional drink — say, once or twice a week — without experiencing an overall drop in your milk supply,” Dr. Newton says.

But “occasional” is the key word. Regularly consuming alcohol can have a negative effect on your breast milk supply and on your let-down reflex, a hormonal reaction that allows your body to eject milk so that you can breastfeed.

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“People who drink regularly tend to have a lower milk supply than those who don’t drink at all,” Dr. Newton states. “The let-down reflex is also delayed in people who drink regularly, which can result in the baby getting less milk.”

If you ever feel that your alcohol consumption is higher than it should be or that it’s interfering with your ability to breastfeed, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help evaluate your habits and support you in making changes for your health and well-being, as well as your baby’s.

Is it better to avoid alcohol altogether?

OK, here’s the thing: In truth, it’s always better to avoid alcohol altogether, whether you’re breastfeeding or not. According to a 2023 policy brief from the World Heart Federation, “There are no safe recommended levels of alcohol consumption — those who drink are advised to reduce their consumption for overall health.”

That said, we know that in a happy-hour-loving society, it’s not necessarily realistic to expect everyone to bid permanent adieu to the occasional drink.

The good news is that you don’t have to squash your occasional hankering for an ice-cold beer or a glass of your favorite sangria just because you’re nursing. As long as you time it properly, breastfeeding and alcohol don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“After the alcohol has left your breast milk, you can safely nurse your baby,” Dr. Newton reiterates, “and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider for clarification.”

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