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Alcohol and breastfeeding

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It is best to avoid drinking alcohol until breastfeeding is established. 

If you choose to drink alcohol after that, there are steps you can take to avoid passing alcohol to your baby through your milk. 

The early days of breastfeeding

Avoid drinking alcohol in the first month after your baby is born. In the first month, you and your baby are getting used to breastfeeding. This is called establishing breastfeeding.

During this time your baby will be feeding very often. It may be difficult for you to predict when your baby will need their next feed. If you drink alcohol, your baby could need another feed while there is still alcohol in your system.

Breastfeeding is usually established by the time your baby is one month old.

After breastfeeding is established 

If you choose to drink alcohol once breastfeeding is established, there are steps you can take to avoid passing alcohol to your baby through your milk:

  • feed your baby before drinking
  • express milk beforehand if you plan to drink more than two standard drinks - 1 standard drink is a half a pint of beer, a single measure of spirits or a small glass of wine
  • wait 2 hours after each standard drink before breastfeeding your baby
  • drink no more than 11 standard drinks in a week
  • spread your drinks over the week
  • have at least 2 alcohol-free days per week

Alcohol and your breast milk

When you drink alcohol, it passes from your bloodstream into your breast milk.

It takes your body an average of 1 to 2 hours to get rid of 1 standard drink. The alcohol level in breast milk will peak at about one hour after consuming 1 standard drink. That is why we recommend that if you’re breastfeeding, you wait 2 hours per standard drink before you feed your baby.

If you have more than one standard drink, you will need to wait longer.

As alcohol leaves your body, it also leaves your breast milk.

How many hours after drinking until your breast milk no longer contains alcohol?

1 standard drink2 hours
2 standard drinks4 hours
3 standard drinks6 hours
4 standard drinks8 hours
5 standard drinks10 hours

This is a guide and the amount of alcohol in your breast milk will depend on many different factors. These include your weight, how fast you drink and if you have eaten.

Risks associated with breastfeeding and alcohol 

Research shows breastfeeding after one or two standard drinks can cause some disruption to your baby’s sleep. This means they may sleep for shorter periods than normal. It can also affect their quality of sleep.

At this level of drinking (1 or 2 drinks), the concentration of alcohol reaching the baby through the milk is about 30 times less than what is consumed by the mother.

We can’t say for sure if there are any long-term effects on your baby from exposure to very small amounts of alcohol in breast milk. The best way to avoid exposing your baby to alcohol in breast milk, even in small amounts, is to follow the guidance above.

Only time makes alcohol leave your body and your milk. Drinking water or expressing breast milk will not clear the alcohol from your body any faster. Expressing breast milk and then throwing it away is sometimes called ‘pumping and dumping’.

Breastfeeding while there is alcohol in your breast milk can affect your baby’s sleep.

Your health

Drinking more than recommended can be harmful to your health. Alcohol can affect your ability to control your behaviour and your body, like thinking, talking, walking and even breathing.

Safety

You may not be to take care of your baby properly if you are affected by alcohol.

The safest thing to do is to not drink in the first month, follow the low-risk drinking guidelines and wait 2 hours per standard drink before breastfeeding.

Plan ahead if you think you will be drinking more than 2 standard drinks. Get someone else to babysit your child.

The safest place for your baby to sleep at night is in a cot in your room. Do not share a bed with your baby if you have taken alcohol, drugs or medication that may make you sleep more heavily.

Eliminating alcohol from breast milk 

Only time will reduce and remove the amount of alcohol in your breast milk and in your bloodstream.

Expressing milk will not make the alcohol leave your body any faster.

But it can help to:

  • maintain your milk supply
  • relieve discomfort if your breasts are very full

If you express milk after you drink alcohol, this milk will contain alcohol and does not need to be stored.

You cannot reduce the amount of alcohol in your breast milk by:

  • drinking water
  • resting
  • expressing breast milk and throwing it away – this is sometimes called 'pumping and dumping'

Low-risk drinking guidelines 

If you choose to drink once breastfeeding is well established, follow the HSE’s low-risk drinking guidelines. Low-risk drinking reduces your risk of alcohol-related problems.

An adult woman should have no more than 11 standard drinks per week. These drinks should be spread over the course of a week. You should have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week.

Having 11 standard drinks per week is not safe if you drink them all in one session or in a few nights.

Drinking more than the guideline amount of alcoholic drinks can be harmful to your health.

In Ireland, a standard drink has about 10 grams of pure alcohol in it.

Examples of a standard drink:

  • A pub measure of spirits (35.5ml).
  • A small glass of wine (12.5% volume).
  • A half pint of normal beer.
  • An alcopop (275ml bottle).

A bottle of wine at 12.5% alcohol contains about 7 standard drinks.

Weekly low-risk drinking guidelines

How to manage breast feeding with a night out

Feed beforehand

Breastfeed before you drink alcohol.

Express beforehand

Express enough milk before drinking so that your babysitter can feed your baby. Express milk beforehand if you plan to drink more than one or two standard drinks. Your baby can have expressed milk if they need a feed while you have alcohol in your system.

Have extra milk if needed

Have extra milk ready in case you need it while you’re waiting for alcohol to leave your body. If you don’t have extra breast milk, give your baby formula milk if needed.

You may need to talk to your public health nurse, GP practice nurse or midwife about formula milk. They can give you advice on how to correctly prepare, handle and store formula milk if needed.

Babysitter

Arrange for a babysitter to care for your baby and stay overnight if necessary.

When you’re out

When out, limit the amount of alcohol you drink by drinking water in between drinks.

Express milk to relieve any breast fullness or engorgement. This breast milk will contain alcohol so there is no need to save it.

Find out more:

Breastfeeding.ie

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