The risks of alcohol consumption in pregnancy are well-documented, but postpartum there is a lot of varying information about whether enjoying a glass is okay, especially if you’re nursing. (For more on drinking alcohol while trying to conceive, read here.) There are a few things you should know about alcohol intake while breastfeeding which may influence your decision to enjoy that glass of wine.
What affect does alcohol have on milk production?
First, consuming alcohol can decrease prolactin and oxytocin levels, the two hormones involved in milk production and the release of milk, respectively. If you’re struggling with milk production, this would be a good reason to abstain from drinking alcohol until you’re finished with your breastfeeding journey or until you’re feeling more confident about the volume of milk you’re producing.
When you drink alcohol, it initially increases prolactin levels (milk production) within about a half hour to an hour after drinking and increases the prolactin if you pump during this time. However, regardless of pumping or not, prolactin levels then plummet about two to four hours after drinking alcohol, compared to not drinking alcohol. In this study, alcohol consumption also led to significantly less milk expressed. When women tried pumping again an hour and a half later, their prolactin and milk release responses were delayed by a few minutes. Big picture what does this mean? Having one to two drinks can decrease milk production by about nine percent within the first two hours post-consumption. If you’re planning to pump or breastfeed during this time, expect to have a lower supply—which could be problematic if you already have lower production.
How much alcohol reaches baby when nursing?
If you do breastfeed or pump after drinking alcohol, how much is your baby getting? Alcohol concentrations in breast milk correlate to maternal blood alcohol levels. As your blood levels increase, so does that in your milk, hitting the highest concentrations about 30 to 60 minutes after drinking alcohol. One group of researchers decided to do the math. They calculated, for a mother weighing 70 kilograms, consuming about four drinks, feeding a six kilogram baby 150 milliliters of breastmilk, baby’s blood alcohol levels would be 0.005 percent (about one tenth the legal limit for driving in most European countries). Keep in mind that the enzymes in a baby’s liver that break down alcohol are very underdeveloped and inefficient, slowing the elimination of alcohol by 50 precent (meaning a relatively more potent dose).
What happens if a baby is exposed to alcohol through breastmilk?
In addition to you not being able to produce as much milk during those next few feeds, suckling on alcohol-containing breastmilk may interfere with baby’s sleep patterns, dividing sleep into shorter intervals. One study found that in infants aged three to five months, it even reduced rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep for the first three and a half hours. Meanwhile other studies suggest that regular and heavier drinking (two or more drinks per day) may delay psychomotor development and growth.
How much alcohol is safe to drink while breastfeeding?
The CDC says that not consuming alcohol is the safest choice, but up to one drink per day is not likely to be harmful. Safety with consumption increases if you feed baby two hours or more after your 1.5-ounce cocktail. Keep in mind that if you indulge in two cocktails (equivalent to 10 ounces of wine or 24 ounces of beer) ,you can have alcohol in your system for four to five hours. These are estimates and are also dependent on your body weight and the efficiency of your liver’s own detoxification and elimination enzymes. Toronto’s Motherrisk also reports that the occasional drink is not harmful, and they even provide a chart for alcohol clearance based on maternal weight and the amount consumed.
Is pumping and dumping a good plan?
If mom’s blood alcohol levels are still elevated, the content in breastmilk will be the same until mom’s levels are back to normal—regardless of if she pumps and dumps. You’re better off waiting and not wasting milk, unless you are uncomfortably engorged.