Alcohol and breastfeeding

Is it safe to drink alcohol when breastfeeding?

The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend for breastfeeding women, not drinking is safest for the baby.

Any amount of alcohol the mother drinks, passes through the mother’s blood into breast milk. Because of this, breast milk can have the same, or higher, amount of alcohol as the mother’s blood.1 It takes about two hours for the body to clear one standard drink from breast milk for an average woman, and breast milk is only free from alcohol once the mother’s blood is free from alcohol. Expressing or ‘pumping and dumping’ does not speed up the process, or reduce the amount of alcohol in the remaining breast milk.1 If a mother breastfeeds her baby while there is still alcohol in her breastmilk, the baby also drinks the alcohol.2

Alcohol in breast milk can disrupt the hormones needed to successfully breastfeed, and alcohol can also adversely affect feeding behaviour and patterns of a breastfed baby.1 In addition, a baby’s brain keeps developing after its born, which means the brain is still sensitive to damage from alcohol.2

Not drinking alcohol is the best option for a mother and baby when breastfeeding, but if a woman decides to drink alcohol, planning ahead can reduce the risk of harm to the child. For example, mothers can express milk prior to drinking alcohol so that alcohol-free milk is available for the baby.

For more information about how to avoid exposing a breastfed baby to alcohol, speak to a health care professional. The free Feed Safe app can also be downloaded to guide when breastmilk should be free of alcohol.  Created by the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Reach Health Promotion Innovations and Curtin University, it is available for Apple and Android devices.

1

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2020).  Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

2

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2020). Guidelines: Practical Information.

Page last updated: 03 February 2021

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