Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Alcohol is ubiquitous, and we are all pretty familiar with the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. We also know the harmful effects of alcohol during periods. But what about alcohol and breastfeeding? Is alcohol safe for babies during breastfeeding?

Clearly, breastfeeding moms are often left confused by this conflicting topic. While they are frequently advised not to use alcohol during pregnancy, given the evidence that it can harm an unborn child, the hazards of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding are unclear.

Many healthcare experts advise avoiding alcohol altogether as it's the safest option. Evidently, there's no level of alcohol in breast milk that's considered safe for the baby. 

Read on to know everything about alcohol and breastfeeding, including its possible risks and preventions. We will also discuss some tips on what you can do to save your baby. 

How Does Alcohol Get Into Your Milk? 

In general, less than 2% of the mother's alcohol consumption ends up in her milk and blood. It should be noted that alcohol is not preserved in breast milk, but its levels are similar to those seen in maternal blood. 

The rules for drinking alcohol while breastfeeding are less strict than they are during pregnancy (where no quantity of alcohol is regarded as safe), and you may receive more different opinions from your friends.

How Much Alcohol Passes In Your Breast Milk? 

Alcohol is completely water—and fat-soluble, which makes it easy for it to reach the bloodstream and breast milk. 

Alcohol does not undergo digestion in your stomach but is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach lining. Then, it travels throughout the body, including breast tissue, and that's how it enters your breast milk. 

Surprisingly, after a single standard drink, the quantity of alcohol in milk is roughly 95% of the mother's blood alcohol content (BAC). 

In the United States, one standard drink is 0.6 ounces of alcohol, which can be found in:

  • 5 oz of wine (12% of alcohol)
  • 8 oz of malt liquor (7% of alcohol)
  • 12oz of beer (5% of alcohol)
  • 1.5oz ( one shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor, such as gin or whiskey (40% of alcohol).

What Happens If The Baby Gets Alcohol Via Breast Milk? 

Well, that depends on how much you actually drink. Even though only a small amount of alcohol is transferred to the baby's system, it's harmful. That's because the baby's liver is still immature.

They will not be able to process or metabolize the alcohol completely, like adults. So, it becomes difficult for them to flush it out from their bodies. 

As a result, this will damage your infant's growth, sleep pattern, and overall development. In addition, it will put your child at risk of not reaching the normal physical and mental milestones for their age. 

Apart from that, alcohol may also change the taste of your breast milk, and your little one may not enjoy it.

However, excessive alcohol consumption can mess with the milk ejection reflex or letdown when maternal alcohol levels are high. Overindulgence in alcohol may eventually result in shorter nursing sessions because of lower milk production. 

What Are The Risks To A Baby During Breastfeeding? 

Newborn babies cannot metabolize alcohol as quickly as adults can. Moderate alcohol intake by a breastfeeding mother (up to one standard drink per day) is unlikely to harm the infant, especially if the mom waits at least two hours before breastfeeding. 

And, of course, you should keep in mind the age of your newborn baby. If they are under three months old, you need to be extra careful. This is because your baby is super vulnerable. Their body is still developing, after all. 

Babies may experience some of the following effects: 

  • Non-stop crying
  • Sleep disturbance (frequent wakefulness, shorter sleep periods)
  • Decreased milk intake by newborn 
  • Infant agitation (restless moving, twitching, or jerking of the body)
  • Reduced weight gain 
  • Increased startling 
  • Impaired immune function
  • Growth retardation
  • Delta of motor development 
  • Impairment of cognitive development and function
  • Increased arousal 

Effect Of Alcohol On Mother During Breastfeeding

A huge body of research has found that drinking reduces your hormonal response to your baby's sucking. This means that nursing your infant after drinking will produce less milk. 

Furthermore, having more than two drinks in a session has been observed to diminish mothers' letdown (milk ejection reflex).

Since you are not completely emptying your breast with each feed, your milk supply may decrease over time. 

Can I Pump and Dump After Drinking Alcohol? 

For those who don't know, pump-and-dump is basically collecting breast milk through pumping and then dumping (throwing) it.

Instead of allowing your baby to drink milk, you are disposing of that milk in a sink. Some mothers believe that this will eliminate the alcohol so that they can breastfeed their infant afterward. 

But here's the truth.

Bumping and dumpling will not remove alcohol from breast milk since it is not “trapped” in it; rather, it returns to the mother's bloodstream when her blood alcohol content decreases.

That means it fluctuates based on the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. Consequently, alcohol will be present in your milk as long as it is present in your blood. Your breast milk will no longer contain alcohol if there is no longer any alcohol in your blood.

Let's understand this better by taking an example. 

Suppose you had a glass of wine and decided to pump your milk after 30 minutes. Then, after an hour, you breastfeed your baby. Because alcohol is still present in your system, the milk you produce at that time will also have alcohol in it. 

So what can you do? Your body just needs time to process the alcohol, so there's no more left in your breast milk or blood. It should be noted that the length of the time differs for each woman; however, two to three hours for every drink is advised. 

Pumping after drinking should only be done for your own physical comfort and benefit if your breasts feel overly full and you are not yet ready to feed your baby.

So, How Much Alcohol Is Safe To Drink When You're Breastfeeding?

As explained before, no level of alcohol is safe when you're nursing your newborn. Still, if you feel like drinking or craving it, one glass of drink is totally OK to drink, according to the CDC.

That means 5 oz of wine, 1 oz of liquor, or 12 oz of beer. It's enough to make you relaxed but not to get you intoxicated, either. 

But you have to make sure to wait for at least two hours before feeding your baby. As the alcohol exits your bloodstream, it will also leave your milk. Note that expressing and discarding your milk is not necessary. 

What Should I Do If I Drink Too Much? 

Sometimes, you may end up drinking too much. The best way is to wait longer so that your body clears it. You may also consider alcohol or milkscreen test strips online to detect alcohol in your breast milk, even at low levels.

It only takes two minutes and has an accuracy of 99.99%. All you have to do is dip the strip into your breast milk, and it will show if you're good to go. 

Doing this will reassure you that you're ready to breastfeed your baby. Hence, to be on the safer side, screen your breastmilk using the test strip and make sure it's booze-free before nursing your newborn.   

How Can I Prevent It? 

Sometimes, there comes a situation when avoiding alcohol becomes nearly impossible. Let's say you're at a family party or on a date, and someone offers you a red wine.

You have no choice but to drink despite denying it many times. For whatever reason, now you might be worried about the consequences of alcohol on your newborn. 

To prevent such situations from happening, you may find the below tips helpful: 

  • Plan everything in advance. If you know you're going somewhere later at night and think that there's a possibility that they may offer you a drink, keep a supply of expressed breast milk in the freezer beforehand. 
  • Limit your alcohol intake to reduce its concentration in your milk. Take no more than one standard drink per day, which is equivalent to a 12-ounce beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine. 
  • If possible, try to breastfeed your baby immediately before drinking any type of alcoholic beverage. Then, wait about three hours to nurse again to ensure that your baby gets little to no alcohol from you. 
  • You can also opt for other non-alcoholic beverages like soft drinks, soda, and carbonated drinks to minimize the alcohol intake. 
  • Another thing you can do is to make your baby sleep for 2 hours or so. Until then, your alcohol may clear away from your breast milk, and then you can nurse. 
  • Whenever you can, accept and ask for offers of help that allow you to take a little break from parenting to devote yourself to something you enjoy.

Lastly, you'll need to be extra careful to time your drinking to your infant's feeding schedule. This way, you'll be able to enjoy your motherhood. 

How Long Does It Take For Alcohol To Leave The System When Breastfeeding? 

The more drinks you have, the longer it takes for your body to clear it. Research says around 30 to 60 minutes after alcohol consumption, there will be the highest concentration of alcohol in breast milk. It will take a little longer if you've been eating food, too.

The alcohol concentration in your breast milk declines at the same rate as in your blood. However, this may depend on the types and amount of alcohol as well as your age, height, weight, and metabolism.

Once you know how long it takes for alcohol to enter your bloodstream and then your breast milk, you can figure out a nursing schedule that lets you enjoy a few sips but that won't affect your baby.

Suppose you drink a glass of beer at 6 pm. The alcoholic effects will show up in your breast milk by about 6:30 to 7 pm. Take another hour for processing. By 8 pm, your breast milk should be safe for the baby to consume once again. 

If you are a regular drinker and are struggling to avoid alcohol and are worried about how to cut down, speak with your doctor and ask for suggestions. Remember your infant's health is important. So is yours! 


So, this was all about alcohol and breastfeeding. As we explained, no harmful effects on infants have been shown when breastfeeding mothers drink no more than one drink in a day.

One standard drink counts as a safe drink, but if you choose to drink, you should exercise caution in how and when you do so.

Alcohol may remain in your breast milk for 2 to 3 hours and can interfere with your infant's overall development, growth, and sleep.

Also, know that so-called pumping and dumping, resting, drinking plenty of water, or having coffee will not get rid of the alcohol from your system. So, to avoid exposing your newborn to alcohol, the ideal way is to pump it before consuming it. 

All things considered, staying away from alcohol is the best option for breastfeeding mothers. Prioritize your baby’s health! 


1. What are the risks of alcohol while breastfeeding?

Ans: The major risk of alcohol while breastfeeding is that it decreases the production of milk. This causes shortened breastfeeding. It may also affect the sleep pattern of the infant as well as their early development. 

2. What happens if you breastfeed too soon after drinking?

Ans: If you breastfeed too soon after drinking, it can reduce the infant's milk intake by 20-30% and lead to infant agitation and disturbed sleep. 

3. How long should I wait to breastfeed after drinking? 

Ans: You should wait for at least 2 hours after drinking alcohol (moderate) before breastfeeding your baby. 

4. How much alcohol is in breast milk before it shows up?

Ans: Generally, alcohol from one drink is found in breast milk for about 2-3 hours. The higher the number of drinks, the longer the duration. 

5. What happens if the baby drinks breast milk with alcohol?

Ans: If the baby drinks breast milk that contains alcohol, it can damage the infant's early development, sleep patterns, and growth. It may also have an effect on the mother's physiological processes. 

6. Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

Ans: It's best to avoid drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. However, moderate drinking, i.e., one glass of alcohol consumption, is considered harmless.

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Oliver Nelson

Oliver Nelson is a New York based Health Specialist Writer who completed his graduation from Syracuse University back in 2015. His writings were published in the top Healthcare brands in the United States.

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