Alcohol breastfeeding calculator to help you understand how long alcohol remains in your breastmilk, plus official guidance on drinking and breastfeeding, and the facts you need to know to make informed and safe decisions about your lifestyle.

Every year around Christmas time I re-share this post with the following intro for laughs. Of course 2020 was a bit (lot) different, so I couldn’t simply republish without referencing ‘it’.

While this blog is for the most part a positive space, I won’t pretend that spending the festivities isolated from loved ones is easy. Hopefully some clarification about breastfeeding and alcohol will make the season a little easier; I’m even including an alcohol in breastmilk calculator to simplify everything as much as possible.

The breastfeeding and alcohol calculator will guide you on exactly when alcohol has left your system.

Drinking and Breastfeeding – Is It Safe?

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.

Glass of Wine

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.

The truth abouot breastfeeding and alcohol. #breastfeeding #breastfeedingtips #breastfeedingadvice
Breastfeeding and alcohol: is it really as bad as suggested?

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 an alcohol and breastfeeding 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. I had this one created specifically for the purpose:

1 drink = 12oz 5% beer OR 5 oz 11% wine OR 1.5 oz 40% spirit

Please enter your information above

Note:

  • Time is calculated from the beginning of drinking,
  • Alcohol metabolism is constant at 15 mg/dL,
  • Calculations are based upon a woman of 5' 4" in height.

References:

  1. Koren, G. Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. Motherisk Update. Canadian Family Physician 2002; 48:39-41
  2. Ho E, Collantes A, Kapur BM, Moretti M, Koren G.Alcohol and breast feeding: calculation of time to zero level in milk. Biol Neonate. 2001;80(3):219-22.

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Baby Breastfeeding

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.

Baby Nursing

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.

Mother With Painted Nails Nursing Infant.

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.

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is a huge advocate of personal growth, focusing on journaling to increase positivity and facilitate mindful motherhood. With a wealth of experience in breastfeeding and CMPA, Kate is also an expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

20 Comments

  1. Emma Lofthouse-Burch Reply

    Really good post, you’re right mist people aren’t daft and will be sensible x

  2. Kate Tunstall Reply

    I’m certainly not encouraging women to drink, simply trying to educate. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  3. Debbie Nicholas Reply

    Great article and it’s good to be informed either way ????????

  4. Love this post. Need to do one on pregnancy too. So bored of seein people tell women all these foods they can’t eat during pregnancy when they can. But that’s another topic lol.

    I drank alcohol in moderation when we had a New Years toast and some weddings etc to attend and I was breastfeeding. I did always find that it upset little mans nappies for some strange reason. Literally one wine/champers. So I didn’t really do it once we noticed that reaction. Weird huh.

    • Thanks hun, I wrote this after struggling to find consistent/accurate information that was backed up by research, and now it’s my most popular post.

      I think it’s so important to fully educate ourselves – and then be sensible.

  5. Lauretta Wright Reply

    When I was pregnant with my first I didn’t drink at all, but with my second I would have the odd glass or two when I was still breastfeeding. But I always stopped at two glasses maximum as this is what I was comfortable with. I think if you’re sensible about it – and being mindful of carrying a child, then you shouldn’t feel bad about having the odd glass of wine. Really informative post – thanks for that.

  6. Lucy Cantley Reply

    So refreshing to read a post like this. There is so much misinformation about alcohol and breastfeeding (and alcohol and pregnancy). I’ve never seen any hard evidence that ONE occasional glass of wine or beer will harm your unborn child, or your breastfeeding child, yet some woman preach like it’s the most irresponsible thing to do and your child WILL get fetal alcohol syndrome.
    I’ve had the odd glass of wine while pregnant, and plan on having the odd glass of wine to keep me sane as a new (hopefully breastfeeding) mother.

    • Thanks Lucy. I’m a massive breastfeeding advocate – but I also feel strongly that women should be educated and empowered to make their own responsible decisions!

  7. Thanks Lauren! By the way, there’s actually no need to ‘pump and dump’; it’s an old wives’ tale. So enjoy the odd glass guilt-free! You’re doing something so valuable for your baby, but we need a little me-time too!

  8. I’ve just went and grabbed your book to read ? I knew you could have a drink but I didn’t know how it all “worked” – For me, I’m kind of thinking if I have a glass of wine with dinner, or a G&T on a Saturday evening, the amount is just so tiny. I’m not one for binge drinking anyway and I kind of think surely having a water in between drinks is going to help push the alcohol out of your system and, most importantly, keep you hydrated. It’s like you said, being responsible.

    • Thanks Kat, I hope you like it and find it helpful!

      Absolutely, it’s about being sensible. Life doesn’t have to stop if you’re responsible.

  9. I liked this post a lot. The only thing I could address is the “pump and dump.” Most people are well aware that we can simply wait to breastfeed our children, but failing to feed or pump for an extended period of time can not only lower milk production but also be incredibly uncomfortable!

    • Glad you liked the post.

      To address your comment re pumping, I thought it was clear from the context of the post that I was referring specifically to the incorrect advice to ‘pump and dump‘. As for whether a nursing mother should express before, during or after having alcohol, it obviously depends on the circumstances and is personal preference.

      Whether there’s alcohol involved or not, if you’re leaving your baby for an extended period then expressing may become necessary; but that’s not really what this post is about.

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