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Alcohol and breastfeeding

Alcohol and breastfeeding

It’s that time of year again. A time for getting together, celebrating and having barbeques on balmy summer nights; for some people that means enjoying a glass of wine or an ice cold beer alongside good food and good company.

But what does this mean for you if you’re currently breastfeeding?

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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.

But how much alcohol gets into your 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 its safe or 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.

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 for 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 parenting 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.

So, at the end of the day, it’s up to you whether or not you have a couple of drinks during this festive season (or at any time of year) and it’s not up to anyone else to judge you for your choices. For myself being able to enjoy a drink (or two) while breastfeeding is a factor in why I’ve been happy to continue to breastfeed my children beyond infancy, if breastfeeding meant absolute abstinence from alcohol I would not be celebrating my 7th consecutive Christmas as a breastfeeding mother.

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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