First things first: alcohol is and should always be considered a luxury indulgence. The safest approach is not only to totally avoid alcohol during pregnancy but also while breastfeeding. This is especially important during the initial stages of your breastfeeding journey.
However, with careful consideration and a solid understanding of the facts, occasionally consuming alcohol during the later stages of breastfeeding can still be done safely.
Alcohol in breastmilk
Alcohol enters breast milk through the bloodstream about 20 to 60 minutes after you've had a drink. The alcohol level in breast milk is identical to the alcohol level in the bloodstream and also breaks down in the same way. Only time can make the alcohol level in the blood and breast milk go down, as milk is produced from the blood as needed. There's no storage function in the mammary glands, so milk doesn't need to be pumped and discarded after drinking alcohol. Pumping and throwing away milk, known as "pumping and dumping," is not necessary.
Alcohol breaks down continuously at around 0.1% vol per hour. This is why it's important to always breastfeed before drinking alcohol. It is recommended to save some breast milk in your freezer or keep formula with you, abstain from drinking on an empty stomach, and to drink enough water.
What needs to be considered?
In the first few months of your baby's life, however, it makes sense to continue completely avoiding alcohol. Breastfeeding intervals are simply not controllable; babies usually drink a lot, especially in the evenings. While your baby still isn't eating enough solid foods, it's safest to avoid alcohol altogether!
- The alcohol level in breast milk is identical to that in the blood, so always breastfeed before drinking.
- Alcohol breaks down on its own at about 0.1% vol per hour. (Use this as a rule of thumb!)
- Your baby should never sleep in bed with someone who has consumed alcohol.
- Having a stash of frozen breast milk or even formula on hand is always a good idea.
- During the first few months of life, it’s best to steer clear of alcohol - remember, it’s more about your baby’s transition to solid food.
- And don’t forget: alcohol decreases milk production!
Rule of thumb
Alcohol breakdown in breast milk
The recommended waiting time between drinking alcohol and breastfeeding always depends on the total consumption.
For guidance, an occasional responsible consumption of up to 20g is generally assumed to be "low risk". BUT: There is no 100% guarantee and erring on the side of a more extended gap is always preferable.
The alcohol content of a drink can be calculated as follows:
Amount in millileters x % volume / 100 x 0.8 = grams of pure alcohol
For instance, in a 100 ml glass of wine with an alcohol content of 11%, the pure alcohol would be 8.8g. Online calculators are also available to help you responsibly determine appropriate waiting times.