How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breastmilk?

By
Karen Lac
- November 14, 2017

Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding: Keeping it Safe

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breastmilk?
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After nine months of not touching alcohol during your pregnancy, you may be looking forward to a nice glass of wine or cocktail after baby's birth. Yet if you plan on breastfeeding or are already breastfeeding, be careful about drinking alcohol since it passes into your breast milk and can cause harm to your little one. Here's what you need to know about the dangers of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding and what to do to minimize any effects on your baby.

The Dangers of Drinking and Breastfeeding

Alcohol passes into your breast milk just as it does your bloodstream. While your baby is exposed to just a small portion of the amount you drink, the alcohol stays in her body longer. In fact, up until the age of three months, a baby eliminates alcohol from her body at only half the rate of an adult.

You will find conflicting information on just how much alcohol is too much. According to some research, babies exposed to just one drink a day might experience impaired motor development, as well as changes in sleep patterns. There have also been studies that show that drinking alcohol decreases milk production. Further, your baby may drink less of the milk you do produce, about 20 percent less, perhaps because alcohol changes the taste of breast milk. Value your sleep? Some research also shows that alcohol causes changes in babies' sleep patterns.

Pumping and Dumping

"Come out with us! Just pump and dump!" your friends might say when they tell you to join them at the wine bar. Unfortunately, contrary to what your friends may think, pumping breast milk and throwing away that milk, otherwise known as pumping and dumping, doesn't speed up the time it takes for alcohol to clear your body. Another misconception is that alcohol stays in the milk that has accumulated in the breast and needs to get released through pumping and dumping. The truth is that alcohol leaves breast milk as it leaves the bloodstream. Pumping and dumping does help relieve engorgement and maintain milk supply if you'll be skipping a breastfeeding session in order to grab a drink with friends. So pack your breast pump in your purse before you head out to avoid any embarrassing leakage and pain, but remember that you still need to limit your alcohol consumption.

When Alcohol Clears Breast Milk

Alcohol in breast milk peaks about 30 to 60 minutes after it's drunk, or 60 to 90 minutes if you had food with your alcohol. Since pumping and dumping doesn't immediately get rid of alcohol in your breast milk, you'll just need to wait until your body naturally breaks it down and removes it from your breast milk before breastfeeding again. How long this takes depends on a number of factors, including how much you weigh, how much you drank and the type of alcohol you drank. A bigger person metabolizes alcohol faster than a small person. The more you drink and the higher the alcohol content in your drink, the longer it'll take to clear your body. So depending on your weight, it may take two to three hours for the alcohol to leave your breast milk after drinking 12 ounces of 5-percent beer or 5 ounces of 11-percent wine. Be aware that if you're drinking a high-alcohol drink, such as 40-percent vodka, it'll take much longer for the alcohol to clear your breast milk. For a 120-pound woman, it can take up to 13 hours.

Drinking Safely

So what's a mom to do? If you do decide to drink, opt for one glass and try to have your drink right after you breastfeed so that there's enough time for the alcohol to clear your breast milk before your next breastfeeding session. Go for low-alcohol drinks such as light beer or cider over that vodka cranberry or cabernet sauvignon. Pump enough breast milk prior to drinking so that you have some on hand in case your baby starts crying for food shortly after you drink. You may also want to keep some formula around just to ensure that your baby has something safe to drink no matter what kind of night you had.

Keep in mind that the younger your baby, the more careful you must be about alcohol. Since a newborn baby processes alcohol slower than an older baby and nurses more frequently, you may even want to wait until after the first few months of life to drink.

While being a breastfeeding mom doesn't mean that you have to condemn yourself to a teetotal lifestyle, just remember that when it comes to drinking alcohol, it's easy to underestimate how much you're drinking. Plan ahead and always keep in mind that the health of your baby is more important than any drink. Contact your doctor for guidance if you feel as if you need help with your drinking.

About the Author

When not caring for her two young children, Karen is a freelance writer of various topics, including motherhood, family life and child rearing. Her writing has appeared on the websites What to Expect, Tom's of Maine, Working Mother and many others.