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The Dangers Of Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

March 21, 2019

The dangers of drinking during pregnancy are well known, but the effects of drinking while breastfeeding are not so clear-cut. There are many factors that can contribute to whether or not drinking will have an effect on a baby who is breastfeeding. These factors include how much alcohol is consumed, the length of time between drinking and breastfeeding, and the age of the infant.

There are countless benefits that come with choosing to breastfeed. Breast milk provides infants with cells, antibodies, and hormones that help to boost the baby’s immune system and prevent illness. Research has shown that breastfeeding can reduce ear infections, asthma, the risk of leukemia, vomiting, diarrhea, and more.

However, choosing to drink while breastfeeding could potentially counteract these benefits. While the full extent of the harm that can be caused to an infant is unknown, it’s still not recommended to drink excessively or regularly while breastfeeding.

Can You Drink While Breastfeeding?

Most women choose to remain sober throughout their pregnancy, which means that once their baby is born, they have gone nine months without alcohol and are often ready to begin drinking again. However, the jury is out as to whether or not drinking while breastfeeding is safe, but the general consensus is that it’s not.

Just like any other substance, smoke, food, or liquid, alcohol passes through the bloodstream and into the breast milk. This means that anything you put into your body can potentially end up in your baby’s system. Even one alcoholic beverage can end up being passed to your baby through your milk.

There are many important factors to take into consideration when it comes to whether or not you should drink while breastfeeding. These include the following:

  • The amount of alcohol you consume — While drinking excessively is not recommended and can be extremely harmful to your infant, the occasional drink, such as one glass of wine, is generally considered to be safe. However, you should not breastfeed for at least two hours after drinking.
  • How old your baby is — Newborns are believed to be more affected by alcohol in breast milk due to their immature liver and take longer to metabolize alcohol and other substances in breastmilk. Older babies can metabolize alcohol much more quickly than infants.
  • Your weight — Your weight can influence how efficiently you metabolize alcohol and how long it stays in your body. It can also play a role in how much you can ingest.

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How Long Does Alcohol Remain In Your System?

The amount of time alcohol will stay in your system – and as a result, affect your breast milk – will depend on a number of different factors. These factors include:

  • What you ate that day and what you eat while/after drinking
  • Your weight
  • How much you drank
  • The type of alcohol you drank

Doing things such as “pumping and dumping,” drinking coffee, drinking water, or other methods of sobering up will not speed up the process of alcohol leaving your system and your breast milk. If you are intoxicated, you should not breastfeed until you are completely sobered up. Drinking to the point of intoxication is not recommended, but if it happens, it’s best to wait several hours after your last drink before resuming breastfeeding.

It generally takes an average person two hours to completely metabolize a drink, so if you have three drinks, it’s best to wait at least six hours before breastfeeding again. Alcohol moves through the breast milk in the same way it goes through the bloodstream, so after two hours per drink has passed, it’s considered safe to breastfeed again.

Potential Effects Of Alcohol On Babies

When alcohol is present in the breast milk, babies are exposed to alcohol and have to metabolize it just like adults do. However, infants’ livers are much more immature than adults’, so it can take much longer to metabolize and potentially cause health issues.

A few of the many effects that alcohol can have on a baby include:

  • Trouble sleeping and eating
  • Less nutrition due to the presence of alcohol in breast milk
  • Underdeveloped or slower to develop motor skills
  • Weakened muscles and slowed muscle growth
  • Decreased milk intake
  • Decreased growth

In short, excessive consumption of alcohol while breastfeeding can have a severely negative impact on an infant’s overall ability to grow and develop motor skills. If you are abusing or addicted to alcohol while breastfeeding, you can put you and your baby’s life in danger.

Getting Help For Alcohol Addiction While Breastfeeding

If you feel that you cannot quit drinking while you are breastfeeding, it’s important that you get help as soon as possible to protect the livelihood of your child as well as yourself. Overcoming addiction is never easy, but it is possible and will pave the way to a better life for your family.

There are many options available when it comes to treatment programs. Inpatient treatment is the most commonly prescribed type of treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction. However, most new mothers are not willing or able to leave behind their child for an extended period of time. Some inpatient centers will allow women to bring their children with them while they receive treatment.

Additionally, there are many outpatient treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction. Each option ranges in the level of intensity and structure it provides. Alcohol not only affects you but can have effects on your family as well, you can work with your primary care physician to determine which type of treatment option is best for you and your family.

Contact us to learn more about alcohol abuse and treatment options.

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