Drinking any alcohol while you are pregnant could seriously harm your baby, but drinking just one glass of wine while breastfeeding probably is safe for your newborn, according to La Leche League International. To protect your baby while still enjoying a tasty glass of merlot, you need to understand the way alcohol affects your breast milk, your body and your baby.
Alcohol and Breast Milk
When you drink wine, some of the alcohol enters your breast milk; when your baby nurses, he will ingest some of the alcohol. Even though your milk contains a relatively small level of alcohol, your baby is also very small, so the alcohol could affect his body and behavior.
Metabolism and Timing
Fortunately, the alcohol doesn't remain in your milk until the baby empties the breast; as your body processes the wine, it metabolizes and eliminates the alcoholic content from your bloodstream and your breast milk. When your body no longer contains alcohol, neither does your milk. On average, it takes a woman two to three hours to process one serving of wine fully. To avoid passing any alcohol to your baby, breastfeed her immediately before drinking the wine, and encourage her to eat a full meal. After drinking the wine, don't breastfeed for two to three hours, or until you no longer feel any effects of the alcohol. Remember, if you still have alcohol in your system, then your milk still has alcohol in it.
Effects on Baby
If the baby does consume some alcohol via your breast milk, it can make him feel sleepy and weak; he may sleep too deeply or for too long, or he may sleep restlessly and lightly, unable to attain the deep sleep his body needs. He may cry more than usual, startle more easily and feel unhappier. To avoid these effects, never breastfeed while drinking or in the hour afterward, since your milk's alcohol content peaks at 30 to 60 minutes after consuming the wine. Over time, consuming alcohol through your milk could hinder your baby's growth, weight gain and mental development. One occasional glass of wine, however, will not cause these serious problems, especially if you wait two to three hours before breastfeeding.
Effects on Milk Production
A long-existing but inaccurate myth claims that drinking wine can help you achieve milk let-down and can even increase milk production. Drinking beer actually does help stimulate let-down. Wine, however, doesn't have the same effect because it's the barley in beer that helps, not the booze. In fact, drinking wine actually decreases milk production by as much as 20 percent and for as long as four hours, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. After drinking a glass of wine, carefully watch your baby for signs of hunger throughout the next day; if necessary, feed her more often than usual or supplement with formula.
- La Leche League International: What About Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding?
- AAP Policy: Maternal Medication Usually Compatible With Breastfeeding; American Academy of Pediatrics
- "Pediatrics"; Effects of Exposure to Alcohol in Mother's Milk on Infant Sleep; Julie Mennella, et al.; May 1998
- International Society on Infant Studies; The Effects of Alcohol in Breast Milk; Pamela Schuetze, et al.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Alcohol's Effect on Lactation; Julie Mennella