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How is Breast Milk Produced?

Breast milk is produced by mammary glands found in the breast tissue. These mammary glands are present from birth but become fully useful for milk production only during pregnancy. Several hormones regulate the development of the mammary glands as well as the initiation and maintenance of lactation. The most significant of these hormones are oxytocin and prolactin, both produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. Prolactin, together with other hormones (examples are estrogen and progesterone), regulates the final development of the mammary glands during pregnancy. After birth, the woman’s hormonal situation changes, and in this setting, prolactin can start milk secretion from the mammary glands |1|.

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Can Alcohol Be Found in Breast Milk?

Yes. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) |2|, alcohol levels are normally highest in breast milk 30-60 minutes after an alcoholic drink is drunk and can be usually detected in breast milk for around two to three hours per alcoholic drink after it is consumed. However, the length of time alcoholic drink can be detected in breast milk will increase the more alcohol a mother drinks. For instance, alcohol from one drink can be detected in breast milk for about two to three hours, alcohol from two drinks can be detected for about four to five hours, and so on.

Blood alcohol levels and the length of time alcohol can be detected in breast milk after drinking will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, how fast the alcohol is consumed, whether it is consumed with food, how much a mother weighs, and how fast alcohol is broken down in a mother’s body. Alcohol is not stored in the mother’s breast so as the liver metabolizes the alcohol causing the blood alcohol level to drop, so does the alcohol level in the breastmilk. Lactating women should not breastfeed for several hours after drinking until their blood alcohol levels have declined again |3|.

Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding has no benefits but only harming your child. Caring for a baby while intoxicated is not safe!

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What You Should Know About Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding

  • Drinking beer does not increase the lactating mother’s milk supply, as the urban myth suggests.
  • Drinking alcohol of any kind may decrease the amount of breast milk the baby drinks.
  • Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding can change the taste of breast milk, and some infants may not like it.
  • Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding an infant can pose a risk to the baby if he or she consumes breast milk with alcohol. 
  • Pumping or expressing milk after drinking alcohol and then discarding it (pumping and dumping) does not reduce the amount of alcohol present in the milk quicker. As the alcohol blood level falls over time, the level of alcohol in the breast milk will also decrease. Breast milk continues to contain alcohol if alcohol is still in the bloodstream.
  • Current research says that occasional use of alcohol (1-2 drinks) does not appear to be harmful to the nursing baby. Many experts recommend against drinking more than 1-2 drinks per week.
  • Excess levels of alcohol in milk may lead to drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness and decreased growth in the infant.  Reduction of let-down is reported when the mother drinks heavily. Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding may reduce the baby’s sucking time at the breast but not the volume of milk consumed.
  • Never share a bed or other sleeping surface with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol and breastfeeding. Drinking affects your natural reflexes, and drinking and bed-sharing has an increased association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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What Are The Effects of Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding?

Of course, not drinking alcohol is the safest way for breastfeeding mothers. Typically, moderate alcohol consumption by a breastfeeding mother (up to one standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the baby, especially if the mother waits at least two hours after a single drink before breastfeeding. However, drinking alcohol above moderate levels through breast milk could be damaging to a baby’s growth, development, and sleep patterns. Alcohol consumption above moderate levels may also undermine a mother’s judgment and ability to safely care for her child.

Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding don’t mix well. There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s
considered safe for a baby to drink.

Risk of Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding an Infant

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased arousal
  • Increased crying
  • Increased startling
  • Increased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the period from 3.5 hours to 24 hours after exposure to alcohol
  • Decreased weight gain
  • Decreased milk intake by baby
  • Growth retardation
  • Impaired immune function
  • Delay of motor development
  • Potential impairment of cognitive development
  • Reduction in ability for abstract reasoning at school age (6-7 years)

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What If I Get Drunk?

If you are intoxicated, you should not breastfeed until you are completely sober, at which time most of the alcohol will have left your body. Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding to the point of intoxication, or binge drinking has been shown to impact the way infants sleep. The negative impact on sleep occurs when the infants are exposed to alcohol through milk containing alcohol at the level it would be found in human milk one hour after a mother consumed a significant amount of alcohol (0.3 grams per kilogram of their body weight).

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Remember, breastfeeding is the best way to feed a newborn and is recommended until a baby is at least age one. If you choose to drink, plan carefully to avoid exposing your baby to alcohol. Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding are not mutually exclusive. You can safely nurse your baby after the alcohol has left your breast milk.

If you have questions about breastfeeding and alcohol, ask your doctor or lactation consultant. Helping yourself or a loved one should be achieved without sacrificing comfort and safety. We level Up NJ provides is a safe and comfortable inpatient alcohol rehab program with licensed therapists and 24 hours health monitoring.  Call us now.  We have a 24/7 hotline that is ready to assist you.

Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Learn more about how to achieve a new level of recovery, call us now. We will guide you to recovery if you’re struggling with drinking alcohol and breastfeeding at the same time.

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|1| |3| NIAAA –

|2| CDC –