Question: How Much Alcohol Can I Have While Breastfeeding? Should I Dump My Milk?
A reader asks:
"I am breastfeeding. I have a now 2-month-old baby and have not had a drink since I found out I was pregnant. I would like to go out and have a couple of drinks and I would pump after and then again the next morning and discard. If I am sitting at home and decide to have a drink is it OK to nurse while I have that first drink or does it get into your breast milk that fast? Also, if you have a weaker drink like a malt drink or a low-proof alcohol drink then is it OK to breastfeed without pumping?"
Answer: I answer some of these questions in an article on alcohol and nursing here, but let me address some of your concerns more specifically.
It takes about half an hour before the alcohol starts to get into your milk, so while you are having a drink at home or just before would probably be safe if you have eaten something recently. Of course, a weaker drink would mean less alcohol in your system, but be aware that as long as the alcohol is in your blood, it is also in your milk. Just make sure you aren't feeling the effects of the drink before you nurse. If you are impaired in any way by the alcohol, it's in your milk and will affect your baby.
You say that you want to go out and have a couple drinks and mention pumping and dumping. You should know that alcohol in your milk doesn't remain there. It works the same as it does in your blood. Once the alcohol is out of your blood, it's also out of your milk. So only pump if you are going to miss a couple of nursings and want to keep up your supply or to relieve any engorgement you might have while you are away from your baby. You can also pump before you drink if you want to have some milk on hand to feed your baby if you feel like you're still going to be intoxicated at the next feeding. Don't think you have to do it because alcohol is going to stay in your milk long after you've been drinking. You don't have to get rid of any milk. It doesn't work that way.
Another thing that you should watch out for, according to La Leche League International, is your baby's age. Because your baby is 2 months old, liver function is more limited than in an older baby, so even a small amount of alcohol could tax your baby's liver. At around 3 months of age, however, your baby would process any alcohol more quickly, more like an adult's liver would. Before that, however, babies process alcohol at about half the rate of adults.
All that said, know that as long as you aren't sucking down Jell-O shots and then nursing your baby, the occasional beer with your pizza or glass of wine with your bubble bath now and then shouldn't be avoided like the plague. Experts like Dr. Jack Newman, author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers () are working hard to dispel these myths. Nursing while you are drunk or frequently nursing when you've been drinking -- those are problems. But, according to Newman, "Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all ... Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers."
Do you have a question you'd like to see answered? You can send your questions to me at email@example.com and I will answer them here on the site.