Holiday Special: Alcohol and Breastfeeding, What You Need to Know!

Can a breastfeeding mom have a glass of wine?!

This is a guest post written by MARIE-CAROLINE BERGOUIGNAN, IBCLC lactation consultant

The holiday season is approaching, the time of family celebrations too, everything is being organized already... But some women are apprehensive about this period because they are breastfeeding and will not be able to enjoy it like everyone else... Why? Schedules are disrupted, fatigue accumulates, and in addition, they are breastfeeding, so cannot drink alcohol. Is this true??

I will try to provide you with information to enlighten you on the subject and help you make YOUR decisions.

Officially, the “Better Living with your child…. says “nursing mothers can have a drink of alcohol from time to time” (p.294, 2012 version). As much as alcohol is to be avoided during pregnancy, as much during breastfeeding, it is tolerated, but be careful, in moderation! Moderation means about 2 drinks per week; beyond that, the risks increase.

What you need to know to make the decision to drink or not drink alcohol while breastfeeding:

  • The alcohol level in your milk is equal to that in your blood and is generally less than 2% of the dose consumed by the mother.

  • The highest level in your milk will be approximately 1 hour after consumption (faster if fasting, slower if you have eaten).
  • The baby receives only a small amount of alcohol ingested by the mother.

  • The baby's body is immature and therefore eliminates alcohol much more slowly than we do. The younger the baby, the more this is true (half as fast in the first weeks of life).

  • Baby will be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. His sleep or his behavior may be more affected. Sleep phases will generally be shortened. Motor development seems to be more affected by regular alcohol consumption (on a daily basis) and not cognitive development.

  • Alcohol consumption can negatively affect milk production and the let-down reflex (contrary to beliefs in some cultures) by decreasing oxytocin secretion when consumption exceeds moderation. Production can drop by up to 23% after the mother has consumed alcohol (during the next 3-4 hours). This can therefore have a greater impact in a low weight baby or cause the baby not to gain enough weight.

  • Alcohol consumption does not affect the quality of milk.

  • Only time allows the elimination of alcohol in milk. There is no point in drinking more water or anything else.

  • Breast milk is still the best milk to give to your child. 


    What to know if you decide to drink alcohol and breastfeed:

    • Each drink takes about 2-3 hours to be eliminated from your body (depending on your weight). See the reference table in “your resources”*.

    • If you drink your drink just before a feed, by the time the alcohol gets into your milk, the feed will be over and by the time you are at your next feed (at least 2 hours later), your body will have eliminated the majority alcohol.

    • The younger your baby is, the more alcohol affects him.

    • If your child sleeps through the night, this gives you more flexibility. 


      What to know if you want to drink alcohol but not breastfeed your baby at the same time:

      • If you are not comfortable breastfeeding after you have consumed alcohol, you can give your baby previously expressed milk (by cup, syringe, spoon, breastfeeding aid, etc.).

      • If you feel engorged, you can express your milk to relieve yourself and throw it away because freezing does not remove the alcohol.

      • Alcohol does not remain in your milk, it is eliminated as quickly as in your blood. Which means you don't have to express your milk and throw it away if you're not engorged.

        In fact, it all depends on the age of the child, your comfort in drinking and breastfeeding, your values, the amount of alcohol you want to drink, your weight and your condition (fasting or not). Once again, there is no one answer but every breastfeeding family will have their solution. It's up to you to find yours!

        Keep in mind that during this period when the routine is disrupted, when baby is traveling and sleeping in new places, when he meets new faces, breastfeeding is even more reassuring and becomes one of the only stable benchmarks for the baby, and can therefore be a helpful tool to spend beautiful holidays with your family and make your life easier! 

        Happy Holidays to all breastfeeding moms!!



        Marie-Caroline Bergouignan

        Consultante en lactation IBCLC

        Au service de votre allaitement



        • Alcohol’s effect on lactation, de Julie Mennella, Ph.D., National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2001
        • Can I drink alcohol? De Dr Hale, 2011
        • Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding ; will it harm my baby? De Gideon Koren, Md, Motherisk, 2002
        • Breastfeeding, a guide for the medical profession, de Ruth et Robert Lawrence, Éditions Elsevier Mosby, 2011




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