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Alcohol and Breastfeeding

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Alcohol and Breastfeeding Guidelines

Maternal alcohol use is a complex topic. Total abstinence while nursing is safest.

However, some studies show that 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.

Note: If a mother ingests more than a moderate amount of alcohol, it could harm the infant.

Newborns can be exposed to alcohol when it is passed in breastmilk. This is harmful because their metabolisms work at about half the rate of adults.

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Side Effects of Alcohol in Breastmilk

Side effects of babies ingesting alcohol from breast milk include:

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

If a mother drinks, she should wait two hours before breastfeeding.

Alcohol can also impair mothers’ judgment. This can impact the ability to care for their children safely.

For this same reason, a mother should never co-sleep with their infant after any alcohol intake (especially excessive drinking).

Doing so increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breastmilk?

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 in breastmilk. The same rules apply to drinking while pregnant, although current guidelines recommend not drinking at all while pregnant.

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 about two to three hours per drink.

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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.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) has been commonly thought of as genetic. Exposing your newborn to alcohol has significant health effects.

Even one regular glass of wine can threaten a baby’s development.

This is because the alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to their baby via the umbilical cord.

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
  • Risk of developing a dependence on alcohol or other substances
  • Birth defects (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 birth defects 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.

Simply put: It's unsafe to drink alcohol while pregnant.

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Updated on March 28, 2022
10 sources cited
  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.

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