It’s common knowledge that pregnant people are told to avoid alcohol, and whether you’ve skipped it all together or have had a small glass of wine or a beer here and there, you may be eagerly awaiting a drink once your baby is born. If you’re planning to breastfeed however, you may still need to wait until you indulge in a restaurant pour where you don’t think twice about how many ounces are in the glass. So how long after drinking can you breastfeed? As with so many things during pregnancy and postpartum, the answer shifts slightly depending on who you ask and your own risk assessment.
This “how long to wait to breastfeed after drinking” chart along with input from two lactation consultants and an OB-GYN will help you make the most informed decision about how long after having a drink (or a couple) it’s best to wait before breastfeeding or pumping with the intention of saving the milk.
How long does alcohol stay in breast milk?
The amount of alcohol that gets into your breast milk is the same amount that’s in your blood. So for an example, if you drink a beer that has 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), that does not mean your breast milk is 5% alcohol. “According to this study less than 2% of the alcohol dose consumed by the mother reaches her milk and blood,” Krystal Nicole Duhaney, registered nurse, IBCLC, and founder of Milky Mama, tells Romper.
As for how long alcohol stays in your milk? “The length of time alcohol can be detected in your breast milk is dependent upon your weight and the amount of alcohol consumed. Alcohol clears from your breast milk at the same time it’s cleared from your blood,” Duhaney tells Romper.
People metabolize alcohol differently based on several factors. “A healthy liver is continuously processing and metabolizing alcohol as it enters your blood. Most agree that parents can return to breastfeeding when they feel neurologically normal. If you would responsibly drive a car, you're fine to breastfeed,” Parker says.
This chart shows how long to wait to breastfeed after drinking
How long to wait to breastfeed after drinking 5 beers
First things first, what the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deems the “safest” option for those who are breastfeeding is to abstain from alcohol all together. However, their alcohol and breastfeeding guidelines go on to say that, “generally, moderate alcohol consumption by a breastfeeding mother (up to one standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the mother waits at least two hours after a single drink before nursing.”
So, whether you’ve been consuming wine, beer, or cocktails, the easiest way to figure out how long to wait to breastfeed is to multiply the amount of drinks you’ve had by two, which equals the minimum hours you should wait. So if you’ve had five beers, you should really try to wait at least ten hours before breastfeeding.
This is a guideline, though, not a hard and fast rule. Many factors are at play when it comes to metabolizing alcohol. “Blood alcohol levels and the length of time alcohol can be detected in breast milk is correlated with how much alcohol has been consumed, how fast its consumed, body weight, whether it was consumed with food, and how fast it's broken down by the mothers’ body,” Kecia Gaither, double board-certified in OB-GYN and Maternal-Fetal Medicine, tells Romper.
It’s not always possible to perfectly time your feeding with happy hour, too. If you’ve had only one drink, you may not need to wait the full two hours if your baby is hungry. “Most agree that parents can return to breastfeeding when they feel neurologically normal. If you would responsibly drive a car, you're fine to breastfeed,” Caitlyn Parker, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), tells Romper.
Do you have to pump and dump after drinking?
There is no reason to pump and dump after drinking unless you are uncomfortable and need to release pressure on your breasts. Pumping and dumping does not clear alcohol from your milk any quicker than letting it metabolize on its own. Think about it like this: If you were to let out some beer from a keg, it would be less full, but the remaining beer would have the same percent alcohol as it did before.
All experts I spoke with are in agreement that, if you plan to have a drink or two, the best time to breastfeed is right before your first drink.
Signs of alcohol intoxication in a breastfed baby
If you drink moderately and wait a bit before breastfeeding, your baby is not going to get drunk off your breast milk. While your baby won’t be intoxicated per se, if you don’t wait long enough before breastfeeding after drinking more than a small amount, your baby will have alcohol in their system, and it takes babies longer to metabolize alcohol.
“Signs that baby ingested alcohol include altered sleep-wake patterns, decreased milk intake, and increased fussiness. However, because the amount of alcohol transferred into breast milk is so low, these symptoms are rare,” Duhaney says.
You don’t need to stop drinking altogether when you’re breastfeeding, but using an alcohol and breastfeeding chart can help you determine how long after drinking you should wait to feed.
Mennella J. Alcohol’s Effect on Lactation. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-3/230-234.htm
Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, MS/MBA, FACOG, double board-certified in OB-GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services/Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx