Alcohol and Breastfeeding: All You Need To Know

alcohol and breastfeeding

What Can You Do To Drink Before Nursing?

So, in nutshell here is how you can take care of you and your baby when you want to drink alcohol before nursing.

Wait till the baby is 3 months old

Waiting till the baby is 3-month-old has several advantages:

    • The initial phase of breastfeeding struggle has already gone and breastfeeding is going well.
    • Baby’s organ systems mature more and have a better ability to metabolize alcohol.
    • As the baby gets older, his/ her feeding schedule becomes more predictable.

Prepare yourself and the baby in advance

If you know that you might encounter an occasional drinking episode in the future, do the following:

  • Once the breastfeeding is well established, familiarize yourself to a breast pump which suits your need.
  • Learn how to express breastmilk manually (a very useful technique in case of emergencies). 
  • Habituate your little one to have expressed milk from the bottle.

Restrict the number of drinks

Try not to have more than 1 drink during an event. Beware of cocktails as they might contain more alcohol than your standard drink! 

Calculate the wait time

Check your weight and decide how much time you need to wait by using the nomogram given above. If you do not want to go through the table, wait for at least 2 hours or till you feel sober, whichever is later.

Calculate the wait time for alcohol-free breastmilk here!

Get ready before reaching for a drink

Make sure to keep the following things in when you drink alcohol before nursing:

    • Express and store milk in advance before having a drink so that you can use it to feed your baby until you feel sober.
    • Feed the baby before having a drink so it will be easy to manage the 2-hour window period.
    • Pumping and dumping won’t reduce the wait time as alcohol transfers freely from the blood to the breastmilk. After 2 to 3 hours, the alcohol metabolizes and the breastmilk will be free from alcohol.
    • Since you won’t feed the baby after drinking, the breast may become uncomfortably full. So, you may need to express and discard some breastmilk  (Knowing how to express breastmilk manually comes handy here).
    • Always make sure that you have another caregiver to take care of the baby until you feel sober.

“Is it safe to drink when pregnant? Are you serious? You are not supposed to drink alcohol before nursing… Why are you even writing about it?” my grandma glared at me as if I had sneaked in some beer in my closet. At the same time, I remembered my conversation with one of my friends who was complaining how much she wanted to have some beer with her husband on a Friday night but her baby kept waking up and she didn’t even get a chance to have a sip. Alcohol and breastfeeding do not go hand in hand but you may not have a choice sometimes.

Is it safe to drink when pregnant?

Occasional drinking is a common practice in many households. Sometimes corporate events, meetings, product launch parties or hang out with friends present such opportunities where one might be tempted to hold a glass.

However, my grandma is not wrong though. “Not drinking while breastfeeding is the safest and the ideal way to protect your baby from the ill effects of alcohol.” But we don’t live in an ideal world. So, it’s always a good idea to be prepared.

Read our expert’s article for the diet you need to have for a wholesome breastfeeding experience!

Please note that I am not saying that it’s okay to have beer or wine while breastfeeding. If you don’t drink, this is not a good time to start toying with that idea. Not drinking alcohol during breastfeeding is the best decision for your baby. We are talking about the occasional times when one might be tempted to drink. If somebody is a moderate to a heavy drinker and is unable to modify her lifestyle then it’s better to think of alternative options of feeding and caring for your baby.

How does drinking alcohol during breastfeeding affect the baby?

The National Academy of Medicine, United States, states that alcohol consumption exceeding the level of 0.5g/kg body weight (i.e. 30g for a woman weighing 60 kg) may reduce the breastmilk volume and will have harmful effects on the breastfed baby. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, consumption of a large amount of alcohol will cause drowsiness, diaphoresis (excessive sweating), deep sleep, weakness, excessive weight gain with a reduction in height in babies. Drinking 1-2 drinks of alcohol before nursing the baby reduces milk intake by 20% to 22% and results in poor sleep for the baby.

One of the reasons you can’t breastfeed after drinking is because alcohol easily transfers from mother’s blood to the breastmilk. So, after a drink, breastmilk and blood have similar levels of alcohol. Generally, after a drink, blood alcohol levels shoot up after 30 to 60 minutes. Various factors such as the weight of the mother (lower the body weight, higher the time taken to metabolize alcohol) and the amount of food you eat with alcohol, affect the time taken to metabolize it. Thus, waiting for 2 to 3 hours after having a drink, is a good strategy; so that the alcohol is cleared off completely from the breastmilk.

What do the guidelines say related to alcohol and breastfeeding?

Most of the countries in the world discourage drinking alcohol during breastfeeding and India is no exception. Indian dietary guidelines advise avoiding alcohol before nursing. Even for non-lactating women, Alcohol Web India recommends to have one drink per day and to refrain from drinking for at least 2 days per week.

Some of the countries provide acceptable limits where alcohol consumption is culturally more common. For example, in the United States, advises women not to exceed 1 drink per day and wait for at least 2 hours before resuming breastfeeding. Whereas the Australian guidelines permit 2 standard drinks and prohibit drinking before nursing.

How should Indian mothers go about it?

Let’s understand first, what does a standard drink mean in India.

A standard drink helps you to understand the absolute alcohol content of the drink. The definition of a standard drink is specific to each country. A standard drink in India measures to 10 ml of absolute alcohol. To give you a fair idea, here are a few examples of a standard drink for different alcoholic beverages. 

Common Ayurvedic tonics consumed during breastfeeding may have alcohol content, read my article to know more on the topic!

Image Courtesy:  Alcohol Web India

How to calculate the waiting period when drinking alcohol before nursing?

Now let’s calculate the window period that we need to keep between drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.  A Canadian Motherisk program has developed a nomogram that helps lactating women calculate the time they need to metabolize the alcohol based on their weight.  For example, if you are weighing 65 kg and had 1 drink then you will have to wait for 2 hours and 16 minutes (always better to assume the highest value) before nursing. By this time there will be no alcohol in your breastmilk.


Courtesy: http://www.motherisk.org/women/updatesDetail.jsp?content_id=347

What Can You Do To Drink Before Nursing?

So, in nutshell here is how you can take care of you and your baby when you want to drink alcohol before nursing.

Wait till the baby is 3 months old

Waiting till the baby is 3-month-old has several advantages:

    • The initial phase of breastfeeding struggle has already gone and breastfeeding is going well.
    • Baby’s organ systems mature more and have a better ability to metabolize alcohol.
    • As the baby gets older, his/ her feeding schedule becomes more predictable.

Prepare yourself and the baby in advance

If you know that you might encounter an occasional drinking episode in the future, do the following:

  • Once the breastfeeding is well established, familiarize yourself to a breast pump which suits your need.
  • Learn how to express breastmilk manually (a very useful technique in case of emergencies). 
  • Habituate your little one to have expressed milk from the bottle.

Restrict the number of drinks

Try not to have more than 1 drink during an event. Beware of cocktails as they might contain more alcohol than your standard drink! 

Calculate the wait time

Check your weight and decide how much time you need to wait by using the nomogram given above. If you do not want to go through the table, wait for at least 2 hours or till you feel sober, whichever is later.

Calculate the wait time for alcohol-free breastmilk here!

Get ready before reaching for a drink

Make sure to keep the following things in when you drink alcohol before nursing:

    • Express and store milk in advance before having a drink so that you can use it to feed your baby until you feel sober.
    • Feed the baby before having a drink so it will be easy to manage the 2-hour window period.
    • Pumping and dumping won’t reduce the wait time as alcohol transfers freely from the blood to the breastmilk. After 2 to 3 hours, the alcohol metabolizes and the breastmilk will be free from alcohol.
    • Since you won’t feed the baby after drinking, the breast may become uncomfortably full. So, you may need to express and discard some breastmilk  (Knowing how to express breastmilk manually comes handy here).
    • Always make sure that you have another caregiver to take care of the baby until you feel sober.

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15 comments

  • Rati jani
    Reply February 15, 2019 12:36 am

    Thank you this is very useful!!!

    • Kshemina Mhaskar
      Reply February 15, 2019 4:08 pm

      Thank you so much..Your reply means a lot!

  • Sandeep Yadav
    Reply February 15, 2019 6:41 am

    Very informative article on important topic.
    Specially references given of research ,studies and international bodies.
    Excellent presentation.Keep continue .

    • Kshemina Mhaskar
      Reply February 15, 2019 4:08 pm

      Thank you so much for your reply

  • Suleman
    Reply February 15, 2019 11:37 am

    This was truly very insightful.. well researched and excellently put..

  • Kshemina Mhaskar
    Reply February 15, 2019 4:12 pm

    Thank you so much

  • Chait
    Reply February 16, 2019 4:30 am

    Much needed information for the new-age moms…

    • Kshemina Mhaskar
      Reply March 12, 2019 9:44 am

      Thank you So much

  • Snehal Desai
    Reply February 16, 2019 5:34 am

    Nice article with references
    Useful for feeding mothers

  • Asha Asher
    Reply February 16, 2019 2:11 pm

    Excellent article to guide young mothers of today You have provided scientific information that will allow the mothers to make the right decisions!

    • Kshemina Mhaskar
      Reply February 18, 2019 3:43 am

      Thank you so much for reading.Your feedback means a lot…

  • Rajesh
    Reply February 17, 2019 6:40 am

    Very nice information for all
    Thanks

    • Kshemina Mhaskar
      Reply February 18, 2019 3:43 am

      Thank you so much for reading…

  • Abhishek Nabar
    Reply February 17, 2019 6:29 pm

    I didn’t know this I thought this was a one side view but then I referred other articles n doctor’s blogs and yes this is reality 👍 you’ve explained informative points very well ..

  • Kshemina Mhaskar
    Reply February 18, 2019 3:42 am

    Yes. It is not a common knowledge in India. I really appreciate that you took extra efforts and read more material. Thank you so much for reading.

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