For the first few weeks of looking after a new baby, all your days are taken up with feeding, settling, nappy changing and your focus is on getting as much sleep as possible. However, when the fog lifts (and it will!), generally after the first few months, mums start to feel like getting out of the house and becoming more social. This is when we start getting questions about alcohol and breastfeeding.
When you are pregnant, any alcohol you consume goes into your bloodstream, which travels directly to your baby via the umbilical cord. After the baby’s born, while the alcohol still enters the blood stream and into your milk, it is more diluted and quickly starts to disperse again after time.
It’s probably best to wait at least a month (and to be honest, not many mums will think about chugging down a chardy until at least then) until your baby is in more of a regular feeding pattern before you consume any alcohol. When you feel ready, it’s really just a matter of timing. We know that alcohol will be in your breastmilk about 30-60 minutes after you start drinking, so if you breastfeed your baby directly before you drink, this gives you time to enjoy it knowing you won’t need to feed again within the next couple of hours.
The amount of alcohol in your breastmilk depends on the strength of the drink, how much you’ve eaten, how much you weigh and how quickly you are drinking. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a handy little chart that calculates how much time you need to wait before feeding your baby to allow the alcohol to be cleared from your breastmilk, but generally this is about 2 hours for one standard alcohol drink, 4 hours for two drinks, 6 hours for three drinks and so on.
Some mums ask me about whether they can pump and dump their milk to get rid of the alcohol in it, but it doesn’t really work like this. It’s only time that will reduce the alcohol in your milk, so it’s just a matter of waiting the allocated time before feeding bubs again. You could always express some milk before a big night out so your baby can have this while you are waiting for the alcohol to clear from your milk.
If you are skipping a feed, be sure to keep an eye on your breasts and if they are engorged, you can express this milk and throw it away. This way, you’ll feel more comfortable and help maintain your supply at the same time.
Oh, and one last thing, there’s a bit of an old wives tale that black beer, or stout, will improve your milk supply. Almost the opposite is true, as alcohol can stop your milk flowing as freely, and your breasts may feel quite full, giving the false impression you’re making more milk. I did know a mum who thought her milk was running out, went to the chemist and burst into tears in the formula aisle. The kind sales lady sent her off to the bottle shop across the road for some stout, which she promptly bought, went home and never had another problem with supply again. I think what happened to this mum is that that the alcohol relaxed her in a vulnerable moment of self-doubt (us mums always have those!) so while her milk wasn’t increased, it still did it’s job!
Don’t despair that your social life is over when you have a baby, because it isn’t, and alcohol in moderation (up to two drinks, not every day, once your baby is a month old) is OK when you are breastfeeding, as long as you are sensible about it.