Every year around Christmas time I re-share this post with the following intro for laughs. Of course this year is a bit (lot) different, so I don’t feel I can simply republish without referencing ‘it’. While this blog is for the most part a positive space, I won’t pretend that the next few weeks – or months – are going to be easy. Hopefully some clarification about breastfeeding and alcohol will make the season a little easier; I’m even including a breastfeeding and alcohol calculator to simplify everything as much as possible.
It’s that time of year again where the family convenes and we all attempt to get along for the few mandatory days we’ll be living in each other’s pockets. Hovering dangerously close to passively-aggressively ignoring an arrogant parent or insolent sibling is an inevitability, and there’s only one way to survive: it begins with ‘al’ and ends with everyone feeling a little less frayed around the edges… I’m referring to booze, of course.
But what of those of us who are pregnant or breastfeeding? Can you drink while breastfeeding? Well, despite what many are led to believe, breastfeeding and alcohol don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
How clued up are you on the subject of alcohol and breastfeeding? Do you know the facts? Are you sure?
Because I think there’s a conspiracy; a well-meaning and possibly beneficial one – but a conspiracy nonetheless.
I’m an advocate of the truth – and I’m an advocate of allowing those of us with a little common sense and discipline to take responsibility for and regulate ourselves.
Besides which, breastfeeding is intense. It’s well-documented that nursing rates are dismal, falling far below where we’d like to see them. Nursing is hard enough already, without making it unnecessarily harder.
Official Guidelines for Breastfeeding and Alcohol
The majority of information available about breastfeeding and alcohol discourages women from drinking, and certainly not more than a very tiny amount. (See what the NHS says here.)
And while I absolutely do not promote drinking to excess for anybody, irrespective of their circumstances – scaremongering is unfair and patronising.
The overwhelming majority of mothers will want to keep their children safe and healthy, and they will not use a post such as this – which is intended to inform truth and allay unwarranted concerns – as an excuse to be irresponsible.
Breastfeeding and Alcohol Calculator
Using a calculator to check how much alcohol may be present in your breastmilk can be helpful to help you ensure you’re keeping your infant as safe as possible. You can find one specifically for the purpose at this link.
Just before we dig into the facts about drinking while breastfeeding, I’ve a couple of tips for you if you’re planning to enjoy a glass of wine (which is totally fine by the way):
- Breastfeed first, or finish nursing shortly after beginning your drink. Alcohol levels tend to peak in breastmilk around 30-60 minutes after a drink is consumed, so this will give your body time to metabolise the alcohol before you need to nurse again.
- If you’re comfortable expressing, keep a supply of milk in the freezer for just in case you drink more than expected.
Now let’s look at the truth about alcohol and breastfeeding:
Alcohol and Breastfeeding Facts
Firstly, contrary to the popular myth, it’s not necessary to pump and dump.
Alcohol in the milk is ‘filtered’ at the same rate as alcohol in the bloodstream. This means that the best way to provide uncontaminated milk to your baby is to simply…wait.
More significant though is the concentration of alcohol in the milk. This is the crucial piece of information about which we’re being misinformed. Here’s a simple way to understand the science:
We’ve established above that a woman’s milk alcohol level is equal to her blood alcohol level; when her baby ingests that milk, his liver will repeat the function of filtration already carried out by the mother’s liver.
So, alcohol is broken down by the mother’s liver before entering the breastmilk and travelling to the baby’s liver, at which point it’s already at very moderate levels – as verified by more than 400 doctors in 2019. This diluted alcohol will then undergo the same process again by the baby’s liver.
By the time the alcohol enters the baby’s bloodstream, the quantity is negligible.
I imagine that for the most part, this information will not drastically alter the behaviour of responsible breastfeeding mothers.
Caveats for Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding
…aka covering my back! My intention is to alleviate concerns for nursing mothers wishing to enjoy a couple of vinos during Christmas and New Year.
However, I’m now going to address the reasons to remain mindful of alcohol intake – just in case this does reach anybody looking for an excuse to behave in a way I would completely reprehend.
- The livers of newborns are not fully developed and will not process alcohol as efficiently as an adult’s,
- Alcohol inhibits the production of breastmilk,
- Excessive consumption of alcohol skews perception,
- Excessive consumption of alcohol leads to irrational behaviour,
- Excessive consumption of alcohol precipitates irresponsible behaviour,
- Excessive consumption of alcohol induces clumsiness,
- Excessive consumption of alcohol causes drowsiness,
- Skewed perception + irrationality + irresponsibility + clumsiness + drowsiness is the perfect combination for endangering your baby or otherwise causing them harm. But any one of these factors is enough by itself.
And, if you’re pregnant? Frankly, you need to suck it up. It is what it is and there’s no getting away from that. Console yourself with the fact that next year, Christmas is one hundred percent on your terms; a brief reprieve from the usual stresses of the festive season.
Can You Drink While Breastfeeding?
Ultimately, the point of this post is to allow you to enjoy your usual Christmas tipple without fear or guilt. You’ve cooked the baby (and possibly the entire Christmas dinner too) – the least you deserve is an indulgent Baileys. (Especially if you’re entertaining the MIL this year. In which case – good luck, and I won’t judge you for pouring a double measure. Promise.)
Did the info in this post surprise you? Has it changed the way you feel about drinking whilst breastfeeding – and will it change the amount you consume? Please share with your breastfeeding friends!
For more breastfeeding posts, head over to Breastfeeding – Help, Advice, Support.