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Alcohol and breastfeeding

How alcohol affects your breast milk and steps to take if you want to drink alcohol when breastfeeding

Overview

It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol until your baby is more than 1 month old. In the first few weeks, you and your baby are getting used to breastfeeding. This is called establishing breastfeeding.

If you choose to drink alcohol once breastfeeding is established, there are steps you can take to avoid passing alcohol to your baby through your milk:

  • Feed your baby before drinking alcohol. 
  • Express your breast milk beforehand if you plan to drink more than 2 standard drinks - 1 standard drinkis a half a pint of beer, a single measure of spirits or a small glass of wine.
  • Wait 2 hours after each standard drink before breastfeeding your baby.
  • Drink no more than 11 standard drinks in a week.
  • Spread your drinks over the week.
  • Have at least 2 alcohol-free days per week.

You may not be able to take care of your baby properly if you are affected by alcohol.

Only time makes alcohol leave your body and your milk. Drinking water or expressing your breast milk will not clear the alcohol from your body any faster.

Breastfeeding while there is alcohol in your breast milk can affect your baby’s sleep.

Your baby's first month

Your supply of breast milk is established in the early weeks of your baby's life. This works by supply and demand. The more you breastfeed, the more milk your body produces. This is why it is important not to miss a breastfeed in the first month.

During this time, your baby will be feeding very often. It may be difficult for you to predict when your baby will need their next feed.

It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol in the first month because your baby could need another feed while there is still alcohol in your system.

Breastfeeding is usually established by the time your baby is 1 month old.

Expressing breast milk in the first month

If possible, avoid expressing breast milk while breastfeeding is being established. This allows your baby to feed often from your breasts in the early days and weeks to build up your milk supply.

Some mothers have to express before breastfeeding is established.

For example, you may need to express if your baby:

  • won’t feed directly at the breast 
  • was born sick or premature

Related topics

Expressing your breast milk

Expressing for a premature or ill baby

If you choose to drink alcohol once breastfeeding is well established, follow our low-risk drinking guidelines. Low-risk drinking reduces your risk of alcohol-related problems.

An adult woman should have no more than 11 standard drinks per week. These drinks should be spread over the course of a week. You should have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week.

Having 11 standard drinks per week is not safe if you drink them all in one session.

Drinking more than the guideline amount of alcoholic drinks can be harmful to your health.

Alcohol and heath

What a standard drink is

In Ireland, a standard drink has about 10 grams of pure alcohol in it.

Examples of 1 standard drink are:

  • a pub measure of spirits (35.5ml)
  • a small glass of wine (12.5% volume)
  • a half pint of normal beer
  • an alcopop (275ml bottle) 

A bottle of wine at 12.5% alcohol contains about 7 standard drinks.

Weekly low-risk drinking guidelines

Alcohol and your breast milk

When you drink alcohol, it passes from your bloodstream into your breast milk.

It takes your body an average of 1 to 2 hours to get rid of 1 standard drink. The alcohol level in your breast milk will peak at about 1 hour after consuming 1 standard drink. That is why we recommend that if you’re breastfeeding, wait 2 hours per standard drink before you feed your baby.

If you have more than 1 standard drink, you will need to wait longer.

As alcohol leaves your body, it also leaves your breast milk.

How many hours after drinking until your breast milk no longer contains alcohol

1 standard drink2 hours
2 standard drinks4 hours
3 standard drinks6 hours
4 standard drinks8 hours
5 standard drinks10 hours


This is a guide and the amount of alcohol in your breast milk will depend on different factors. These include your weight, how fast you drink and if you have eaten.

Only time makes alcohol leave your body and your milk. Drinking water or expressing your breast milk will not clear the alcohol from your body any faster.

When drinking alcohol, you may want to express to relieve breast fullness or engorgement. There is no need to store this breast milk as it will contain alcohol. Expressing breast milk and then throwing it away is sometimes called ‘pumping and dumping’.

Risks

Research shows breastfeeding after 1 or 2 standard drinks can cause some disruption to your baby’s sleep. This means they may sleep for shorter periods than normal. It can also affect their quality of sleep.

At this level of drinking (1 or 2 drinks), the concentration of alcohol reaching the baby through the milk is about 30 times less than what is consumed by the mother.

We can’t say for sure if there are any long-term effects on your baby from exposure to very small amounts of alcohol in breast milk.

The best way to avoid exposing your baby to alcohol in breast milk, even in small amounts, is to follow the guidance above.

Your health

Drinking more than recommended can be harmful to your health. Alcohol can affect your ability to control your behaviour and your body, like thinking, talking, walking and even breathing.

Alcohol and heath

Safety

You may not be to take care of your baby properly if you are affected by alcohol.

Follow these safety guidelines if you are planning to drink alcohol:

  • Don't drink in the first month of your baby's life.
  • Follow the low-risk drinking guidelines.
  • Wait 2 hours per standard drink before breastfeeding.
  • Plan ahead if you think you will be drinking more than 2 standard drinks - get someone to babysit your child.

The safest place for your baby to sleep at night is in a cot in your room. Do not share a bed with your baby if you have taken alcohol, drugs or medication that may make you sleep more heavily.

Eliminating alcohol from breast milk

Only time will reduce and remove the amount of alcohol in your breast milk and in your bloodstream.

Expressing breast milk will not make the alcohol leave your body any faster.

But it can help to:

  • maintain your milk supply
  • relieve discomfort if your breasts are very full

You cannot reduce the amount of alcohol in your breast milk by:

  • drinking water
  • resting
  • expressing breast milk and throwing it away – this is sometimes called 'pumping and dumping' 

If you express milk after you drink alcohol, this milk will contain alcohol and does not need to be stored.

Related topic

Expressing your breast milk

Before you drink

Tips to help you prepare for a night out:

Feed beforehand

Breastfeed before you drink alcohol.

Express beforehand

Express enough milk before drinking so that your babysitter can feed your baby. Express milk beforehand if you plan to drink more than one or two standard drinks. Your baby can have expressed milk if they need a feed while you have alcohol in your system.

Have extra milk ready if needed

Have extra milk ready in case you need it while you’re waiting for the alcohol to leave your body. If you don’t have extra breast milk, give your baby formula milk if needed.

You may need to talk to your public health nurse, GP practice nurse or midwife about formula milk. They can give you advice on how to correctly prepare, handle and store formula milk if needed.

Babysitter

Arrange for a babysitter to care for your baby and stay overnight if necessary.

When you’re out

When out, limit the amount of alcohol you drink by drinking water in between drinks.

Express your milk to relieve any breast fullness or engorgement. This breast milk will contain alcohol so there is no need to save it.

Read more about staying safe with alcohol.

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2018
Next review due: 14/11/2021

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