Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

The answer is yes, you can have a beer at the barbecue, even when you're nursing.

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“I drink wine or beer with dinner fairly
regularly,” says Roberta Samec, a Toronto mom and La Leche League leader who is currently nursing her two-year-old daughter. “I wouldn’t have carried on breastfeeding this long if I felt it was restricting my ability to live my life normally; for me, that includes moderate alcohol consumption.”

If you also love the idea of sipping an icy margarita on a hot day but think a cocktail is out of the question until you wean, rest easy: The experts say it is safe to indulge a little—if it’s done right.

Drinking to the point of intoxication definitely isn’t advised, of course, and the concept of moderation is a grey area. “We really don’t know if there is a safe level of alcohol consumption or not, or what all the effects may be on the baby,” says Sharon Unger, medical director of the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. That’s why whether you have one drink or three, the experts advise waiting until your body has completely metabolized the alcohol before nursing your baby again.

If you’re not sure how long it will be until you’re stone-cold sober, follow the guidelines established by Motherisk (motherisk.org), an organization at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto that provides up-to-date advice for pregnant and nursing women and their doctors. It has developed a chart, available online, that factors in body weight and the number of drinks consumed to determine how long it takes alcohol to clear a woman’s system, including her breastmilk. For example, if a 130-pound woman drank one glass of wine at 8 p.m., it would take two hours and 24 minutes—or until 10:24 p.m.—until she could safely nurse again.

But going even a few hours without breastfeeding can be tricky, especially if your baby is hungry or crying for you. That’s why planning ahead is so important, says Rachel Douthwaite, a lactation consultant and public health nurse on Vancouver’s North Shore. Douthwaite recommends breastfeeding right before the toast at a wedding or before you sit down to the family dinner. This way, you’ll maximize the amount of time between having your drink and your baby wanting to nurse again. But you’ll also need a plan for how to feed your baby before the alcohol has cleared your system: Since an infant who’s feeding every two to three hours is probably going to need nourishment, have expressed milk ready to go in the fridge (or in a cooler bag if you’re away from home). For a baby who’s about a year old and also eating solids, you might be able to offer food and water in the meantime. Breastfeeding and drinking gets easier as your kid gets older—a drink with lunch may not even disturb the usual nursing of an older toddler who won’t be breastfeeding until bedtime.

And remember, there’s nothing you can do to cheat the recommended waiting period. Food and water won’t sober you up any faster. Pumping and dumping won’t allow you to breastfeed any sooner, either, because alcohol readily transfers back and forth between your bloodstream and milk supply. As your breasts fill up again, they will still contain traces of booze. That said, if you have a young baby and a bountiful milk supply, you may need to express and discard during this time to relieve the discomfort of full breasts.

“There are many ways to make it work,” says Douthwaite. All you have to do is consider your specific circumstances ahead of time and plan accordingly, she says. “The last thing you want is to feel guilty or like you have to breastfeed when you’ve just had a drink.”

True or false?
Despite what you’ve heard, relaxing with a pint of Guinness won’t boost your milk supply. There are no studies showing that having a glass of beer or any other type of alcoholic beverage will assist with breastfeeding.

Read more:
How your breastfeeding diet affects your baby>
10 easy and nutritious breastfeeding meal ideas>
Can I do this if I’m breastfeeding?>

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