While you were pregnant, you should not have been ingesting alcohol. After delivery, you can relax and start drinking alcohol again if you want. But if you're breastfeeding, you may be wondering whether alcohol goes to your baby through breast milk, and how much alcohol is safe.
Alcohol does go to your baby through breast milk, but how much alcohol goes to your baby depends on how much alcohol you drink and how long you wait before feeding your baby. The majority of experts agree that a little bit of occasional alcohol in your breast milk is fine, though some experts feel that any alcohol is unacceptable. In addition, many experts do not agree on how long alcohol stays in breast milk, how much alcohol gets passed to your baby, and how long you should wait between drinking alcohol and feeding your baby. Alcohol is present in your breast milk only about as long as it's present in your bloodstream. But remember that babies, especially newborns under three months of age, metabolize alcohol much slower than adults.
- Most experts agree that an occasional beer or glass of wine seems to be your best bet. The general rule is to limit your consumption to one or two small, occasional drinks, wait for a period of time before breastfeeding and refrain from getting drunk. If your baby is mostly sleeping through the night and you have a glass of wine in the evening, your breast milk should be safe for your baby in the morning. Of course you should never drink alcohol and then pump your milk for storage.
- Try to wait six to eight hours between drinking alcohol and giving your baby breast milk. While some experts say it's okay to resume breastfeed once you're not feeling the effects of alcohol, others say waiting six to eight hours is best.
- Pump and dump if you've had too much alcohol. Too much alcohol refers to anything more than one or two (preferably one) small alcoholic drinks during the course of the evening. Pumping and dumping is when you pump your milk and then throw it away. The idea of pumping and dumping isn't to purge your milk of alcohol, but rather to keep your milk supply up while you are waiting for the alcohol to work its way out of your system. Depending on how much alcohol you've had, you'll want to pump for about 12-24 hours after ingesting the alcohol at the regular times you feed your baby (every couple of hours, depending on your baby). Pumping and dumping continously for an hour or two will not remove extra alcohol from your breast milk, but will just be painful for you. Alcohol needs time to work it's way out of your system. Obviously, while pumping and dumping, you are not giving your baby any of your breast milk (since it contains alcohol), but feeding your baby untainted breast milk you pumped before ingesting the alcohol, or you are giving your baby formula. If you ingest alcohol again, you will want to pump and dump again.
- Do not drink alcohol if you've just delivered. If you've just delivered, your baby is still adjusting to life and eating. You may think your baby is down for the next few hours, but your baby may have other ideas. If you are breastfeeding exclusively, wait until your baby can go at least a few hours between feedings or until you can supplement your baby's diet with stored breast milk.
- Do not combine alcohol with other pain medicines. If you had a cesarean birth and are on pain killers stronger than Tylenol, do not drink alcohol. The combination of the substances can make you less responsive to your baby's needs.