Is drinking a glass of wine with dinner going to be harmful to my nursing baby?

by Anne Smith, IBCLC

Ask Anne…

BFB Woman drinking wineQuestion: Is drinking a glass of wine with dinner going to be harmful to my nursing baby?

I’ve received varying advice regarding alcohol and breastfeeding. Some people say that a drink a day is okay, others say to avoid it. I just read an article on another website that says that exposing the baby daily to alcohol can slightly affect his motor skills.

I’ve been having a glass of wine with dinner (doing my best to to allow for two hours to get it out of my system). My six-week son’s weight gain and motor skills seem right on track — he’s kicking up a storm and can hold onto and shake a rattle. Also, his neck is very strong and he’s often lifts it and takes a look around. Considering that he was four weeks early, I think this is pretty good.

I’ll happily give up my wine with dinner, if it’s best. Any thoughts on this?

Answer: The American Academy of Pediatrics has approved the use of alcohol in breastfeeding mothers. Alcohol does pass into breastmilk more readily than some other drugs, but unless you drink several drinks or more a day, every day, then there should be no problem.

Some studies have shown that drinking heavily over a long period of time can slow your baby’s motor development, but it has not been proven to cause retardation or any lasting harm. Regular alcohol abuse can cause slow weight gain, but there is no evidence that having a couple of beers or glasses of wine will harm your baby. A mother who is constantly drunk puts her baby more at risk of neglect or accidental injury than from the alcohol that passes into her milk. If your baby is a newborn or a preemie, you may want to be more careful about your alcohol intake than you would be with an older baby, because the liver (which detoxifies alcohol) is less mature in younger or premature babies.

Mothers who drink metabolize alcohol in about one to three hours, so if you want to be conservative, wait a couple of hours for each drink before you nurse. If you have four beers, wait eight hours.

Having an occasional glass of wine or a beer or two should not cause any problems, and I would not even worry about it. In his new book Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, Dr. Newman says “Alcohol while breastfeeding? No problem, in moderation. No need to worry about ‘pumping and dumping’. Just put the baby to the breast, even while you have your drink – why not?”

For years, doctors and midwives suggested having a glass of wine or beer to help you relax and produce more milk. While we know now that alcohol doesn’t increase milk production, and when abused, can actually decrease supply, there is no evidence that drinking in moderation harms your baby in any way.

I hope this info has been helpful. Remember, you don’t have to be Mother Teresa in order to breastfeed! You can enjoy most anything in moderation, including alcohol. We moms have enough stuff to feel guilty about already, and indulging in an occasional glass of wine or a beer doesn’t need to be added to the list.

Anne (who also enjoys wine with dinner, and whose kids are not only not brain damaged, but are exceptionally bright).

Anne Smith, IBCLC
Breastfeeding Basics

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About Anne Smith, IBCLC

Anne Smith, IBCLC
As the mother of six wonderful breastfed children, three perfect breastfed grand babies, and an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) with over twenty-five years experience in lactation counseling, I can offer you professional support, as well as information and advice based on my personal experiences over the years.

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