Alcohol and breastfeeding. Is it safe or not?
Australia is known for barbecues, beaches and beer. For better or worse there is a drinking culture in Australia. While binge drinking is definitely a bad thing, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good glass of wine at the end of the day.
But what does this mean for you if you’re currently breastfeeding?
The Australian Breastfeeding Association says “If you want to, you absolutely CAN enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or whatever it is that takes your fancy, as a breastfeeding mum. The key is to plan ahead.”
If you have an Apple device you can even download this handy App which can help you track and calculate when you’re breast milk will be completely free of alcohol.
How Much Alcohol is in Breast Milk Anyway?
Alcohol enters breast milk at the same rate at which it enters the blood stream, and also leaves breast milk at the same rate at which is leaves the blood stream. So, for example, when you have a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.05% you also have a BAC (boob alcohol content) of 0.05%.
To provide a little context regular fruit juice contains up to 0.1% alcohol from natural fermentation.
Now, I’m not suggesting it’s wise to give babies juice but the reasons they shouldn’t have juice has nothing to do with its alcohol content. Though I am currently breastfeeding my 2.5 year old, who can occasionally have undiluted juice as a treat with a meal if we’re eating out, so for me the comparison to juice is very relevant.
It’s also worth noting that the ABA states in their “Alcohol and breastfeeding” pamphlet that “It is better to give a breastfeed with a small amount of alcohol than to feed artificial baby milk.” That is not to say that formula is dangerous – that is to emphasise how minimal the amount of alcohol that passes through to the breast milk is, so breast milk with a (very very) small amount of alcohol in it is still safer than formula.
Alcohol and Parenting
My biggest concern is not “alcohol and breastfeeding” so much as it is “alcohol and parenting”. If my BAC was 0.1% or higher I’d be much more worried about my capacity to behave like a responsible parent or an appropriate role model, than whether or not my breast milk would be safe for my toddler to consume.
Also, there is the risk of accidentally falling asleep while breastfeeding, which would become unsafe as alcohol is a factor in sleep related accidents with babies. Which is why I’d prefer to have a glass of wine in the afternoon or early evening and go to bed several hours later with a BAC of zero.
Very very occasionally I do like to have “a few too many” drinks. And on these occasions I have organised for my children to be babysat overnight at their grandmother’s house. Not just for safe breastfeeding and responsible parenting – but because this does allow me a bit of an opportunity to sleep off my hang over, because I’ve discovered since becoming a parent I don’t even need to drink that much to wake up with a headache.
Also, while pumping and dumping does not make a difference to your Boob Alcohol Content, if you are going to be spending time away for your breastfed baby/child I’d highly recommend having access to a breast pump to relieve pressure. I discovered this the hard way (pun intended) the first time away from our son we were attending a wedding and I wound up hand expressing to relieve pressure into the venue’s bathroom sink.
The most important thing really is drink responsibly whether you’re breastfeeding or not. Follow the current Australian alcohol guidelines of no more than 10 standard drinks per week, and no more than 4 standard drinks in a day. Also ensure you’re getting at least 2 alcohol free days per week.
And if you feel you’re unable to control or limit your alcohol consumption consider reaching out to the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline for support.
Originally published 12/12/14 – Updated 31/3/20