As any irrational, sleep-deprived new mother would reason, I imagined that any alcohol I drank while breastfeeding accumulated in my breasts and stayed there like a storage vessel. Images of my drunken baby emerged in my mind’s eye and then I would rush to pump and dump…then feel guilty.
But the truth is that your body metabolizes the alcohol in breast milk just as it metabolizes the alcohol in the rest of your body. The alcohol content of your breast milk is nearly identical to your blood alcohol content at any given moment. So when you are tipsy, your milk has alcohol in it and when you sober up, the alcohol comes out of the milk. The only reason to pump and dump after drinking is if you want to maintain your milk production but you don’t want to stop drinking.
Loads of studies have been done to measure how breastfeeding moms metabolize alcohol, since the rate is a little different than in non-lactating women. In most of these studies volunteers drank 2-3 ounces of liquor over one minute. Lots of studies were done because there were so many volunteers! Actually, the experimental protocol wasn’t that fun. Most of the studies administered the alcohol at breakfast, which is not when I like to drink. Even less appealing, the researchers drew blood and obtained a sample of breast milk every 30 minutes.
Thanks to these heroic test subjects, we know how fast alcohol is metabolized in breastfeeding women. There is actually a handy chart that shows how much time it takes to get to zero level in milk based on the mom’s weight and how much she drank. (see pg 3 of this article)
Even if you breastfeed your baby 30 minutes after drinking a 6 ounce glass of wine, which is when your blood alcohol content peaks, the breast milk will contain a minuscule portion of what you ingested. So, worst-case scenario is that your infant will consume the equivalent of about 1/8 tsp of wine. But if you wait 2 ½ hours after drinking the glass of wine, your milk will be alcohol-free.
After reading through all of these studies, I’ve concluded that the most responsible way to drink alcohol while breastfeeding is to drink right after pumping or feeding. Then wait 2 ½ hours for each drink you’ve consumed (1 drink = 12oz beer, 5oz wine = 1 ½ oz liquor). You can also use the breast milk test strips, of course. They are expensive and not terribly accurate. But here’s an even better idea: buy a breathalyzer (I like the $50 Alcohawk Slim) paint it pink, add baby stickers and write “Breast-A-Lyzer” on it. Best baby shower gift ever! Plus all your friends can test their blood alcohol content too.
Have questions about what medications you can take while breastfeeding? What about caffeine? I love the LactMed database – it’s the most comprehensive and reliable source of information available.
Alcohol and breast feeding: calculation of time to zero level in milk. Ho E, et al. Biol Neonate. 2001;80(3):219.
Lactmed Alcohol at http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed 11/13/14