Breastfeeding and Alcohol
There can be many barriers to breastfeeding success. Perceived dietary and lifestyle restrictions, such as avoiding alcohol, can be one of these. There are conflicting recommendations regarding alcohol consumption by those who are breastfeeding. The Hospital for Sick Children resource Motherisk states “no alcohol in breast milk is safest for nursing babies. It is, therefore, prudent for mothers to delay breastfeeding their babies until alcohol is completely cleared from their breast milk.” However, it also states that occasional drinking “does not warrant discontinuing breastfeeding, as the benefits of breastfeeding are extensive and well recognized.”1 Dr. Jack Newman, Canadian pediatrician and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, says, “Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.” 2
So what we do know about alcohol and breastfeeding?
Alcohol enters the milk in the same amount as is present in the blood stream.
What this means is that if a mother has reached 0.05% blood alcohol (the legal limit to drive in Alberta) her milk will have 0.05% alcohol.3 In other words, 100 ml of this mother’s milk would have 0.05 ml of alcohol.4 Non-alcoholic beer has 0.5% alcohol, or 0.5 ml of alcohol per 100 ml. Valencia oranges have about 0.09% alcohol when they are harvested. After 8 weeks of storage they have 0.39% alcohol.5,6 There is more alcohol in a Valencia orange than in this mother’s milk.
When a mother’s blood alcohol level reaches 0.2 – 0.3%, she will be experiencing:
- Severe motor impairment
- Loss of understanding
- Loss of consciousness
- Impaired sensations
- Memory blackout 7
And yet, her milk will only have 0.2 – 0.3 ml of alcohol in 100 ml, still less than a Valencia orange after 8 weeks of storage and much less than a non-alcoholic beer. By the time she gets to 0.5% blood alcohol she will likely be dead, and yet her milk will only have the alcohol content of a non-alcoholic beer!
Table 1. The alcohol content of mother’s milk compared to non-alcoholic beer and valencia oranges
|Impact of mother’s BACa on the mother||Mother’s BAC||Alcohol content of mother’s milk (what baby is getting)||Compared to non-alcoholic beer (0.5%)||Compared to alcohol content of Valencia oranges b|
|Legal Limit||0.05%||0.05%||0.05% < 0.5%||0.05% < 0.09%|
|Stupor/loss of consciousness||0.2-0.3%||0.2-0.3%||0.2-0.3% < 0.5%||0.2-0.3% < 0.39%|
|Possible death||0.5%||0.5%||0.5% = 0.5%||0.5% > 0.39%|
a BAC = blood alcohol content
b 0.09% at harvest, 0.39% 8 weeks later
La Leche League International says: “Adult metabolism of alcohol is approximately 1 ounce in 3 hours, so mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal.” 8
The bottom line is that if you are sober enough to parent, you can and should continue to breastfeed. The most important question is not whether you can drink alcohol and still breastfeed; the most important question is if you are going to drink alcohol to the point of impairment, who is taking care of the baby?
- Koren, G. (2002, January). Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding: Will it harm my baby? Retrieved from http://www.motherisk.org/women/updatesDetail.jsp?content_id=347
- Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding. Retrieved from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/alcohol/
- Blood alcohol content. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_alcohol_content
- Alcohol by volume. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_by_volume
- Davis, P. L. (1971). Further studies of ethanol and acetaldehyde in juice of citrus fruits during the growing season and during storage. Florida State Horticulture Society,84, 217-222. Retrieved from http://fshs.org/proceedings-o/1971-vol-84/217-222%20(DAVIS).pdf
- Davis, P. L. (1970). Relation of ethanol content of citrus fruits to maturity and to storage conditions. Florida State Horticulture Society, 83, 294-298. Retrieved from https://fshs.org/proceedings-o/1970-vol-83/294-298%20(DAVIS).pdf
- Blood alcohol content and YOU. Retrieved from https://wellness.ucsd.edu/studenthealth/resources/health-topics/alcohol-drugs/Pages/BAC-you.aspx
- Alcohol and breastfeeding. Retrieved from https://www.laleche.org.uk/alcohol-and-breastfeeding/