How To Safely Enjoy Alcohol While Breastfeeding.. Without The ‘Pump And Dump’
If you’re like every other breastfeeding Mama, and have no idea what IS actually a safe level of alcohol to consume, well… the good news is you don’t need to pump and dump!
In my naive Student Midwife days, this is what we were taught, and I cringe to think how many women I’ve told to wait an hour per standard drink consumed, then pump and throw it out! What!? How did we ever even think this was a thing? As if the milk was contaminated or something. Here’s my redemption.
Over the years I’ve heard lots of different view points on this topic. Some saying ‘is it seriously that hard to not have a drink?’ or ‘if you’re only going to have one or two surely you can manage to have none’.
The reality is… no. Wine is life. So instead of judging breastfeeding women for their enjoyment of the fermented juice of grapes, let’s educate each other and celebrate that breastfeeding doesn’t have to mean zero alcohol.
Alcohol Levels In Breastmilk
First, you need to know some of the facts:
Your milk alcohol level is the same as your blood alcohol level. Some people say “safe to drive, safe to feed”. It’s catchy, but the problem with this is that a blood alcohol level under 0.05 is considered safe to drive (in Australia), meaning 0.05g of alcohol in every 100mL of blood. I’m married to a Cop, so I’m well aware that some people can be 0.02 and feel drunk, while others can function at ridiculous levels of blood alcohol volume. ‘Safe to drive, safe to feed’ may be a good guide, but Mamas should be mindful that they can feel safe to drive, but actually be over the limit.
Alcohol moves into the breastmilk from the blood, and then back out again, and can be found in milk within 30-60 minutes of drinking. Everyone knows when consuming alcohol, how drunk we get is related to the amount and strength of drinks we have, how much we’ve eaten that day, our body size, and how quickly we are drinking. These factors affect the amount of alcohol that is in your breastmilk too.
It takes about 2 hours for the average woman to get rid of one standard drink (from blood and milk). Drinking lots of water or peeing frequently doesn’t make this happen faster. Neither does pumping.
The ONLY thing that can reduce the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk is TIME, and because alcohol isn’t ‘stored’ in breastmilk, you do not need to ‘pump and dump’ after waiting the 2 hours/standard drink.
How To Drink Alcohol And Breastfeed Safely
If you are planning to consume more than ‘a glass or two’, the Feed Safe app, which times from your first drink, can help you know when it is safe to breastfeed again.
Freezing, chilling, storing or heating breastmilk does not reduce the amount of alcohol in it.
The safest option when breastfeeding is to avoid alcohol altogether, especially in the first 4 weeks. It is important to be mindful of sleeping arrangements as bed-sharing with an intoxicated parent is considered a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
So what does this mean for breastfeeding? What exactly do us breastfeeding Mamas do when we want to have an alcoholic drink?
Firstly, you’ve got to know what amount of alcohol you’re thinking about. A glass with dinner? A few drinks with friends? An all out piss up? If it’s the latter, you’re going to need to think about other arrangements for feeding bub.
Whether that be expressing breastmilk pre-consumption to give via bottle, wet-nursing with a breastfeeding friend, or depending on age bub might have solids too and will be ok without milk for a little while. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, The Milk Meg (and the Australian Breastfeeding Association) states that breastmilk with a small amount of alcohol is a better option than formula for a breastfed baby.
Plan ahead. If bub has some sort of routine (a what?) you may know when the best block of time will be to have a drink without a little boobie monster clawing at your shirt. If your baby is like most kids and you’re flying by the edge of your seat, just feed immediately before you consume your first alcoholic drink.
You also need to plan for comfort! If you have a small baby that is exclusively breastfed, your breasts may become very full and sore if you don’t feed for a while. You may, in fact, need to pump for comfort, and use the milk in baby’s bath if you can’t bear the thought of pouring milk down a drain.
No matter how much you drink, be really mindful to keep track. Stick to standard measures, and be conscious of how much you’re consuming. Watch the alcohol level of your drinks, and choose the lower alcohol options. I don’t know about you but since breastfeeding, I’m a cheap drunk anyway. Two wines equal a big night for me these days.
Most importantly, the take-home message is yes, you can drink alcohol while breastfeeding, and no, you don’t need to pump and dump milk afterwards. You just need to give it enough time.