Baby's First Year · Breastfeeding · Parenting

Breastfeeding and Alcohol:  Do they mix?

Three Smiling woman on outdoor patio where one is holding a baby

A mom recently told me that she stayed away from drinking any alcohol when trying to get pregnant and throughout her pregnancy.  She then shared “After I gave birth and going through those newborn stages of learning to feed my baby, changing diapers, finding a routine, lack of sleep etc… a glass of alcohol was on my mind”.  As a nurse, many parents share with me that they did not know the risks of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding and the effects it could have on their baby.

Remember:  If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or about to breastfeed, the safest choice is to drink no alcohol at all.

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

It is best not to drink alcohol if you are breastfeeding. The safest choice is not to drink and to choose an alcohol-free drink instead. However, occasional drinking is not a reason to give up breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has many great benefits for both you and your baby. If you choose to breastfeed and drink alcohol here are some things you can do to decrease the risk to you and your baby:

  • before drinking alcohol express your breast milk and store. You can give your baby this while you are having your beverage or
  • breastfeed first then have a drink. After having your alcohol drink wait at least 2 hours before breastfeeding. You can express your breast milk to relieve engorgement.
  • limit the amount you drink to 1 or 2 drinks per day

Always measure your alcoholic drinks. Canada’s low risk alcohol drinking guidelines define a drink as:

  • regular size can/bottle is 341 ml or 12 oz. of 5% alcohol content (beer, cider, or cooler)
  • a glass of wine 142 ml or 5oz with 12% alcohol content
  • a shot of distilled liquor 43 ml or 1.5 oz. of 40% alcohol content (rye, gin, rum etc.)

How does alcohol affect my breast milk supply?

Alcohol passes into your breast milk. Any alcohol you take in passes into your breast milk supply and into your baby. Alcohol can decrease your letdown reflex which means your baby may get less breast milk during feedings.

It is a myth that alcohol will increase your breast milk supply, in fact it could decrease your supply of breast milk.

How does alcohol in my breast milk affect my baby?

Alcohol can have many effects on your baby. Alcohol may change the taste and smell of your breast milk. Your baby may not like this new smell and taste and refuse to breastfeed or breastfeed less. Alcohol can also change your baby’s sleep patterns. Heavy consumption of alcohol can put your baby at risk of poor weight gain, poor growth, impaired motor development and developmental delays. It may also impair your ability to care for your baby.

Drinking should be avoided when you are responsible for the safety of others, especially children.

Remember, only time will remove alcohol from your breast milk. Drinking water or coffee, exercising, pumping and discarding your breast milk does not get rid of alcohol any quicker.

If you or your partner are concerned about alcohol use before conceiving, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding, speak to your health care provider.  You may also eChat or speak with a Public Health Nurse at (416) 338-7600.

 

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