One question that always comes up in regards to breastfeeding is “is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?” To answer this question, it is important, first and foremost, to point out that everything you put in to your body while breastfeeding can have an effect on your body. And yes, this includes alcohol.

Despite this fact, some experts believe that it is still possible to drink in moderation while breastfeeding, you simply have to allow enough time for the alcohol to leave your breast milk. Research has shown that alcohol levels in breast milk are similar to those in mother’s bloodstream. This means that alcohol levels will be at their highest in the time immediately after drinking and it will take two or three hours for a single unit of alcohol to leave mum’s milk.

Dr Wendy Jones, a pharmacist who is a Registered Breastfeeding Supporter with the UK based Breastfeeding Network says it’s safe for breastfeeding mothers to drink alcohol “within reason” – a position supported by La Leche League. Wendy goes on to say, “An occasional glass of wine is fine, but binge or regular drinking above the daily unit guidelines of two to three alcohol units is harmful to mum and baby. It is better not to drink every day but to keep alcohol for social occasions.” Wendy also notes, “Breast milk from a mother, who has the occasional small glass of wine or half a pint of beer (the equivalent of one to two alcohol units) is still superior to formula milk, which does not contain all the immunological and other special properties we know breast milk has,”

Many experts choose not to take a relaxed view, insisting that abstinence is essential and that accepting drinking in moderation sends out the wrong signals. Janet Fyle from The Royal College of Midwives, for example, believes that “cumulative alcohol consumption can be harmful to mother and baby”.

Studies have also shown that alcohol in breast milk is likely to make baby agitated, disrupt sleep patterns and can even lead to baby rejecting altogether. Even if baby does take, he or she is likely to need feeding more often as babies have been shown to take less milk per sitting if alcohol is present.

For more information about breastfeeding and alcohol, contact your doctor.