Breastfeeding

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Experts Explain Just How Much Alcohol Affects Your Breast Milk Supply

It all depends.

It’s been a long nine months, mama, and by now you might want to partake of something more tasty than tap water. But if you’re breastfeeding, you’re going to have to count how many Cosmos you drink. Because if you’re wondering if alcohol can affect breast milk supply, it definitely can.

That’s not to say you can’t ever knock one back if you’re nursing. While the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) report that not drinking any type of alcohol is safest for breastfed babies, that doesn’t mean many nursing moms don’t have the occasional drink or two. So if you’re going to indulge in an adult beverage, one drink per day is acceptable and won’t affect your supply, says Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a certified lactation consultant tells Romper. “One glass of wine should not impact milk supply,” she says.

Why Does Alcohol Affect Breast Milk Supply?

Just as alcohol appears in your bloodstream, it also shows up in your breastmilk. While it can be detected as soon as 30-60 minutes after you’ve had either wine, beer, or hard liquor, it can stay in your breastmilk for an hour or more afterwards. After that, it leaves your system, making it safe for Baby’s next feeding and eliminating the need for pumping and dumping.

But that’s assuming you’ve only had one drink. If your mojito is making you want to have a second (or a third), that’s when things become more complicated, especially when it comes to your breastmilk supply. And here’s why:

Drinking Alcohol Can Affect Your Breastmilk’s Letdown

If you breastfeed, drinking alcohol can adversely affect your milk supply. For starters, it slows down your letdown. In the study, “Alcohol and breastfeeding,” researchers found that “alcohol inhibits the milk ejection reflex,” which decreases the amount of milk accessible to your infant. And it doesn’t take much for your letdown to be, well, a letdown for your baby. “More than two drinks can inhibit the letdown of milk,” says O’Connor. To keep things flowing, you can either avoid alcohol while you’re nursing, or stick to just one drink daily — and that’s it.

Alcohol Consumption Means A Decreased Milk Supply

Back in the day, it was thought that drinking beer could help increase milk supply. As it turns out, it’s something in the barley — and not the beer — that boosts milk production, per La Leche League. And that’s why you might find that you’re making less milk when you decide to drink alcohol instead of, say, water. In the study, “Acute Alcohol Consumption Disrupts the Hormonal Milieu of Lactating Women,” researchers found that the hormones affecting milk production are disrupted when a breastfeeding mom drinks alcohol, and as a result, the milk supply is decreased.

How many drinks does it take for your milk supply to be affected, though? Not a lot, according to Liza Janda, a certified lactation educator counselor. “More than 2-3 drinks can negatively affect milk supply, which can cause it to become depleted,” she says.

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Alcohol Consumption During Breastfeeding Affects The Quality Of Breastmilk

Just like the taste of your breastmilk can change depending on what you eat, it can also be affected by what you drink, too. And chances are, your newborn is not going to like all those Negronis, either. “It has been shown that infants take less from the breast after a mom has consumed alcohol,” Andrea Tran, RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant tells Romper.

Here’s How A Decreased Milk Supply Affects Your Baby

Couple a slower letdown with a smaller supply, and your baby is not going to want to nurse. “When there is a slower letdown, this can be very frustrating for your baby, who will be more hungry and fussy,” says Janda. Apart from a cranky kiddo, alcohol can negatively impact your newborn in other ways. “Alcohol consumption can cause sleepiness in the baby, or interrupted sleep patterns, delayed infant's development, and lower weight gain,” she says. Additionally, drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can even affect your baby’s gross motor development, according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine.

But wait, there’s more. “When the breast milk supply has diminished due to alcohol consumption, you might find that your baby has concentrated urine, decreased stools, and slow weight gain, too,” says O’Connor. Plus, babies can metabolize alcohol at about half the rate of adults, per La Leche League, which makes it unsafe for copious quantities of alcohol to be in your breastmilk.

Here’s How You Can Check Your Breastmilk For Alcohol

Let’s say that you’re only planning on having one glass of wine with dinner. To avoid pumping and dumping, you can time your alcoholic indulgence to right after you’ve nursed your baby. That gives you enough time to have your drink without it affecting the next feeding 2-3 hours later, advises Janda. But that can all change, though, especially if your baby is going through a growth spurt. “During growth spurts, it's best to avoid alcohol,” she says. “Babies will cluster feed and feed often during growth spurts at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months.” So, if Baby is feeding more frequently, you might want to limit (or eliminate) alcohol from your diet until their growth spurt passes.

Another option is to try a milkscreen test strip , which can indicate alcohol levels in your breastmilk. If there’s alcohol detected, you might want to wait longer to ensure that your baby is getting the best breastmilk possible.

While a glass of chardonnay once in a while won’t adversely affect your milk supply, drinking two or more drinks daily definitely can. From a slower letdown to a decreased supply, lower weight gain to negatively impacting gross motor skills, breastfeeding can become a bummer. If you plan to drink, do so judiciously so that breastfeeding stays the safest (and healthiest) option for you and your baby.

Studies referenced:

Haastrup, M., Pottegard, A., Damkier, P. “Alcohol and breastfeeding” 2014.

Mennella, J., Pepino, M., Teff, K. “Acute Alcohol Consumption Disrupts the Hormonal Milieu of Lactating Women” 2005.

Mennella, J. “Alcohol’s effect on lactation” 2001.

Experts:

Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a certified lactation consultant

Liza Janda, a certified lactation educator counselor.

Andrea Tran, RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant