AlcoholRehabHelp Logo
AlcoholRehabHelp Logo
Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on October 26, 2023
8 min read

How Does Alcohol Affect Breastfeeding?

Alcohol and Breastfeeding Guidelines

Maternal alcohol use is a complex topic. While some professionals dismiss acute exposure as harmless, total abstinence while nursing is your safest option.

Some studies show moderate alcohol consumption (up to one standard drink per day) has not been linked to adverse outcomes in infants. This is especially true for nursing mothers who wait at least two hours after consuming a single drink to breastfeed.

However, if a breastfeeding mother ingests more than moderate alcohol, it could harm the infant. Newborns are exposed to alcohol when it is passed in breast milk.

Alcohol is especially harmful to them because their metabolisms work at about half the rate of adults. Breastfeeding mothers should never consume alcohol within their baby’s first month, as it can be challenging to predict when the infant will need their next feed.


Online Therapy Can Help

Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:

  • Professional and effective
  • Affordable and convenient
  • Personalized and discreet
  • Easy to start
Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

online consultation

Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding

Side effects of babies ingesting alcohol from breast milk include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Dysfunctional sleep patterns
  • Stunted growth
  • Heightened stress response
  • Reduced immune function
  • Delayed motor skill development
  • Increased risk of cognitive impairment

Alcohol can also impair mothers’ judgment, impacting their ability to care for their children safely.

Mothers should never co-sleep with their infant after alcohol intake (especially after excessive drinking). Doing so increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Excessive alcohol consumption (especially binge drinking) could ultimately cause a mother’s milk supply to decrease. Decreased milk production can deprive the baby of necessary nutrients.

Can Alcohol Stimulate Milk Production?

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not increase milk production in breastfeeding mothers. Drinking alcohol decreases milk production by disrupting the hormones that influence lactation.9

Alcohol can inhibit the release of oxytocin and prolactin, key hormones for milk production, potentially reducing lactation capacity. Less oxytocin impacts the milk ejection reflex. Alcohol doses of 0.5 g/kg can reduce the oxytocin response to suckling by up to 18%.9

Moreover, while barley is a component of beer, it does not increase prolactin production. 


BetterHelp can Help

They’ll connect you to an addiction and mental health counselor

Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Better Help Logo

How Much Alcohol Gets into Breast Milk?

Alcohol transfers to human milk readily, but how much is transferred depends on:

  • The mother’s body weight
  • The rate of alcohol metabolism
  • The amount of alcohol consumed

Breast milk alcohol levels parallel blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. The highest amount of alcohol in the mother’s milk occurs 30 to 60 minutes after alcohol exposure.

While acute alcohol consumption disrupts milk production only as long as the alcohol remains in your system, chronic or heavy consumers may experience decreased production overall.


Thinking about Getting Help?

BetterHelp offers affordable mental health care via phone, video, or live-chat.

Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Better Help Logo

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breast Milk?

How long alcohol stays in breast milk depends on how much alcohol is consumed.

The more alcohol the mother consumes, the higher the alcohol levels will be in her bloodstream. Therefore, it will be passed into breast milk. The same rules apply to drinking while pregnant, although current guidelines recommend not drinking.

The level of alcohol in breast milk peaks about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. However, it can still be detected in breast milk for 2 to 3 hours after a drink.

Here’s a quick rundown of how long alcohol remains in human milk:

  • 1 standard drink: 2 hours
  • 2 standard drinks: 4 hours
  • 3 standard drinks: 6 hours
  • 4 standard drinks: 10 hours

These periods rely on what type of drink you consume. Here are a few examples of single standard drinks:

  • Spirits: 35.5 ml
  • Wine: 12.5% volume (1 glass)
  • Beer: ½ pint
  • Alcopop: 275 ml 

What Happens If Babies Drink Breast Milk with Alcohol?

Maternal alcohol consumption of one standard drink daily won’t typically affect an infant, especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours before breastfeeding.

However, maternal blood alcohol levels of 300 mg/100 ml can result in significant side effects. Extreme alcohol consumption can cause decreased milk ejection reflex (let-down), creating breast pain and discomfort. 

Slow let-downs can impact an infant’s milk intake, especially if the baby starts fussing or coming on and off the breast.

Signs your child may be affected by acute alcohol consumption include:

  • Lethargy or drowsiness
  • Decreased milk intake or not wanting to feed
  • Slow weight gain
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Poor coordination

Nursing infants who consume milk with alcohol may experience sleep disturbances and issues in early development. 

A baby's liver is not fully developed, making it less effective at metabolizing alcohol, which can lead to higher alcohol concentrations in the baby's bloodstream. Because infants process alcohol poorly, they receive a higher dosage of alcohol than nursing mothers. 

What Should You Do If Your Infant Is Affected by Alcohol in Your Milk?

If you suspect your child is affected by maternal alcohol consumption, here’s what you can do:

  • Immediately stop nursing and make your baby comfortable.
  • Consult your primary physician or a lactation specialist for advice.
  • If your child’s symptoms are mild, switch to formula until the alcohol in your system has fully cleared.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if your child is distressed.

How Long Do I Have to Wait to Breastfeed After Drinking Alcohol?

Without standard testing, you can estimate alcohol clearance by waiting approximately 2 to 3 hours per standard drink before resuming breastfeeding. Doing so reduces the likelihood of alcohol presence in breast milk.

If you become intoxicated, avoiding breastfeeding until you are completely sober is best.

Risks of Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

Research about drinking while breastfeeding is not as conclusive as the research surrounding the risks of drinking while pregnant.

The risks of consuming alcoholic drinks while pregnant include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Hyperactivity and behavioral issues (such as ADHD)
  • Mental health issues (such as anxiety and depression)
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (a range of physical, behavioral, and cognitive impairments that can lead to developmental delays, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems)
  • Risk of developing a dependence on alcohol or other substances
  • Congenital disabilities (such as hearing problems, heart complications, bone issues, kidney concerns, and more)
  • Cognitive issues (such as a weak memory, a lack of attention, learning disabilities, speech and language delays, a low IQ, poor judgment skills, and more)

Prenatal alcohol exposure is one of the leading preventable reasons behind neurodevelopmental abnormalities and congenital disabilities in the United States. An estimated 0.2 to 1.5 infants out of every 1,000 live births suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.8

Furthermore, alcohol use disorder (AUD) has been commonly considered genetic. Exposing your newborn to alcohol has significant health effects.

Even one regular glass of wine can threaten a baby’s development because the alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby via the umbilical cord.

How Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding Affects the Mother

Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can also negatively impact the mother in the following ways:

  • Slowed reaction time and impaired judgment, potentially leading to injury
  • Dehydration, leading to other symptoms like fatigue and headaches
  • Poor mental health

Can You Nurse a Baby While Drinking Alcohol Occasionally?

While it isn’t recommended, it is possible to nurse a baby while enjoying the occasional drink. If you intend to drink alcohol socially, remember these tips:

  • Breastfeed your baby before drinking alcohol.
  • Express or pump your milk before a social drinking function, as your breasts may become uncomfortably full between feeds.
  • Limit your intake to no more than one alcoholic beverage, and understand how to define a standard drink.
  • Stay hydrated and eat the proper food while consuming alcohol to slow absorption and avoid getting drunk.
  • Buy a smaller drink or choose something with a lower alcohol content.
  • Arrange for a babysitter to take care of your child.

What to Avoid When Consuming Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Suppose you engage in a single social drink. Here are a few other things to avoid when breastfeeding:


If you drink no more than three cups of coffee daily, your breast milk shouldn’t contain more than 1% of the caffeine you ingest. However, it’s critical to stop drinking coffee if your child becomes fussy or irritable when breastfeeding.


While some mercury is innocuous to most adults, it can damage an infant’s nervous system. As such, you should restrict your diet to two to three servings of fish a week and no more than one serving of species like white tuna.


Nicotine (including e-cigarettes) quickly passes into breast milk, decreasing milk supply by lowering prolactin and affecting an infant’s sleep patterns.

How to Reduce Blood Alcohol Levels in Breast Milk

Expressing or pumping milk after consuming alcohol does not reduce BAC levels in the body. The best option is to allow blood alcohol levels to drop for at least 2 hours.

Lactating women should also practice healthy drinking habits, such as:

  • Staying hydrated with water
  • Taking a nap or getting some much-needed rest
  • Having a healthy snack to help slow the absorption of alcohol in the stomach
  • Getting some fresh air in the backyard

Plenty of options are available if you’re struggling with substance use disorder and want to keep your child safe.

Many local treatment centers offer special accommodations and support for breastfeeding mothers. Here, mothers can get individualized and family therapy.  


Overall, breastfeeding mothers should avoid consuming alcohol, as infants may experience weakened immune systems, stunted growth, delayed motor skill development, and an increased risk of cognitive impairment, among other things.

In addition, alcohol consumption can decrease milk production, as the substance disrupts the hormones involved in lactation. If you suspect your child may be affected by alcohol in your breastmilk, immediately stop nursing and consult your primary healthcare provider.

Nursing mothers can reduce blood alcohol levels in their breast milk by staying hydrated, getting ample rest, and eating nutritious meals.

Updated on October 26, 2023
10 sources cited
Updated on October 26, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol and Breastfeeding.The Breastfeeding Network, 7 Oct. 2019.

  2. Alcohol during Pregnancy.March of Dimes.

  3. Alcohol Use in Pregnancy.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2020.

  4. Alcohol.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Dec. 2019.

  5. Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding.La Leche League International, 29 July 2020.

  6. Fetal Alcohol Exposure.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 24 Dec. 2019.

  7. P Haastrup MB; Pottegård A; Damkier. “Alcohol and Breastfeeding.Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

  8. Wilson J; Tay RY; McCormack C; Allsop S; Najman J; Burns L; Olsson CA; Elliott E; Jacobs S; Mattick RP; Hutchinson D; “Alcohol Consumption by Breastfeeding Mothers: Frequency, Correlates and Infant Outcomes.” Drug and Alcohol Review, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

  9. Wine During Pregnancy.American Pregnancy Association, 1 June 2020.

  10. "Data & Statistics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Dec. 2019.

AlcoholRehabHelp Logo
All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
© 2024 by Treatment Pathway LLC. All rights reserved.
Back to top icon
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram