If you are breastfeeding, the safest approach is not to drink any alcohol.
The impact of drinking alcohol while you are a breastfeeding mother
Almost anything you eat or drink, including alcohol, passes to your breast milk.1 And the level of alcohol in breast milk will rise and fall along with the alcohol in your bloodstream.2
Your blood alcohol levels are at their highest between 30 and 60 minutes after drinking alcohol, or 60-90 minutes if you’ve been drinking with a meal.3 And it takes one to two hours for one unit of alcohol (80ml or just over half a small glass of wine, or half a pint of 4% strength beer) to clear from your bloodstream.4
Alcohol affects your baby’s sleep.5 One study found that babies who had alcohol via breast milk slept for 25% less time than those who didn’t.6
Alcohol also disrupts the hormone that controls the let-down of breast milk.7,8 Babies take around 20% less milk in the three to four hours after alcohol is consumed, and so will compensate by feeding more often.9,10,11
Although evidence suggests an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your breastfed baby,12,13 alcohol in breast milk may expose your baby to developmental delay, meaning it may develop more slowly (mentally or physically) than is normal for its age.14,15
If you are breastfeeding and you do choose to drink on occasion, the NHS advises that you:
- Try to avoid breastfeeding for two to three hours for every drink you have, to avoid exposing your baby to alcohol
- Plan ahead by expressing milk for your baby before you intend to have a drink
- Never co-sleep - having your baby in bed or on a sofa with you - after drinking any alcohol, because of the risk of the baby suffocating if either you or your partner have alcohol in your body.
What to expect when you stop drinking
Pumping and dumping
Remember the level of alcohol in your breast milk will fall as the level of alcohol in your bloodstream falls – expressing milk after consuming alcohol will not clear it of alcohol more quickly than usual. However, if your breasts feel uncomfortable when you're not breast feeding for a few hours, you can 'pump and dump' – express milk and dispose of it – as often as your baby usually feeds.