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Alcohol and Breastfeeding

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I am currently breastfeeding my 3-month-old, with the occasional bottle of formula here and there if I need to be away from him for more than a few hours.  (Though I am going back to work soon, so he will be getting pumped milk for his daytime feedings in the near future.)

Anyway! My question is this: how do you handle alcohol and breastfeeding?  As someone who (in my former life) really enjoyed winding down with a cocktail or two in the evening, who has spent pretty much the entirety of the past year stone-cold sober, Momma is ready for a margarita or two.  (Just in time for the holidays, ha!)

My first post baby drink ended up being the opposite of relaxing, as I fed my baby a bottle while feeling extremely guilty because my boobs were RIGHT THERE (though he did not seem to mind) and then fretted all night about whether enough time had passed for it to be out of my system. Can I feed him now? What about NOW?  Plus I am lazy, and pulling out a boob is SO much easier. I was so afraid to feed him with any alcohol in my system, especially after googling told me how much more sensitive his liver is in the early months, and every search I did came up with SUCH conflicting info, I just said forget it, not worth it.

But now that he is sleeping for longer stretches (sometimes even all night, but more often from 9ish until a wake-up between 2-4 am) KNOCK WOOD, and he is older, I think I am ready to give it another try. What I would love to know is what guidelines you follow or suggest?

I have read that a glass or two of wine is fine, but, erm…I am not the most refined of drinkers- I kind of prefer a jack and coke to pretty much anything.  Hard to find guidelines for THAT on most mommy-sites!

I am okay with him getting a bottle in the evening before bedtime, but I really would prefer to be ready to nurse by 2am-ish, should he not bless us with a night of sleeping through. I would love to hear how you handle this, if at all?  Should I just hold off a few more months?


Here’s what (my personal breastfeeding information source of choice) has to say about alcohol and breastfeeding. They sum it up thusly: If you’re sober enough to drive, you’re probably sober enough to breastfeed. The alcohol percentage in your breastmilk is not the same as the alcohol in your bloodstream, but it will peak about a half hour to an hour after you drink, so a lot of sources recommend waiting two hours to nurse again.

(While other sources will, of course, say that the nursing/alcohol thing is unnecessarily alarmist, much like our country’s attitude towards drinking and pregnancy, while many others will also scare the pantsy pants off you and make you feel like a monster for having a even a single glass of wine while nursing. THANKS, “SOURCES.”)

Alcohol also leaves your milk the same way it leaves your bloodstream, so the whole “pumping and dumping” idea is unnecessary — pumping milk doesn’t speed up the process, and that same milk would be perfectly safe to feed your baby once your body has metabolized the alcohol.

But here’s the thing: Everybody metabolizes alcohol differently. Hell, most women don’t even metabolize alcohol the same way every day, since even your menstrual cycle can effect how long it stays in your system or just how much you absorb into your bloodstream. So that’s why there’s a lot of uncomfortable guesswork and wildly conflicting information about whether it’s okay to a glass of wine or a cocktail or two or more or what.

So I personally opt to take the guesswork out and use these handy little Milkscreen tester strips. If there’s alcohol in your breastmilk, you will get a positive result on the strip. Then you can test again in an hour, two hours, whenever, to know whether it’s passed through your system or not.

I should point out that even a positive result on the strip does not necessarily mean you’re tanked and lactating poison: The strips are VERY sensitive. You will get a positive result if there’s an alcohol percentage of just 0.02% in your milk, which still falls below the amount (0.03%) where any possible change/impact on the baby has even been anecdotally noted. (Mostly changes in sleep patterns — alcohol in breastmilk has been reported to make babies fussier and wake up more.)

You also don’t need to keep a constant, steady supply of strips lying around for as long as you breastfeed: I’ve bought exactly one package with each baby and quickly “learned” how much is okay and how soon I would be in the clear. And personally, it was a lot more and a lot sooner than I thought, and it pretty much reinforced the “sober enough to drive” advice from Kellymom. If you FEEL actually, actively impaired, there’s alcohol in your milk and you need to wait. But one drink or even two, with food (unless you’re a serious lightweight), is unlikely to register any danger. BUT AGAIN, we’re all different. There really can’t and shouldn’t be one set guideline for everybody. Know thyself and thy liver, I suppose.

And remember the timing window — it takes alcohol time to show up in your system, blood or milk. You don’t necessarily need to start giving the baby formula or pumped milk the second a drink touches your lips. At that point, your milk is still beyond pristine. You actually want to be more mindful about feedings that may come an hour or so later. (And yes, the age of your baby matters too. Newborns under three months old will be much more sensitive to even trace amounts of alcohol.) So as weird as it sounds, it’s safer to have the drink right when your baby is nursing or immediately after, thus giving you the maximum time window of a couple hours before they want to eat again. If you nurse at 9 pm when your baby goes to sleep, for example, and have your cocktails right around then, you MOST LIKELY be just fine to nurse again when he wakes up at 2 am, a full five hours later.

But again, the Milkscreen test strips will let you know for sure, so I think they are very much worth the money for the peace of mind and the lack of math and guesswork.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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