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How much alcohol is safe to drink while breastfeeding and how long you need to wait after imbibing

This article was medically reviewed by Lauren Demosthenes, MD, OB-GYN, senior medical director at Babyscripts.
A woman with a toddler sits in a chair while drinking a glass of beer.
The occasional beer is safe to drink while breastfeeding.
Stefan Tomic / Getty Images

  • The ACOG says it's ok to consume 0.5 g of alcohol per kg of body weight while breastfeeding.
  • Pumping and dumping won't make your milk safe. You must wait for the alcohol to leave your system.
  • A good rule of thumb is to wait 2 hours to start breastfeeding but you may need to wait longer.

While it's generally understood that avoiding alcohol is the best option for breastfeeding mothers, there's a lot of confusion around why, and whether or not any amount is safe. 

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), alcohol consumption during breastfeeding should always be limited to 0.5 grams per kg of body weight — for example, 8 ounces of wine for a 130-pound (59 kg) person. 

The ACOG also recommends waiting at least two hours after drinking before you pump or breastfeed.

There are several reasons why it's important to limit how much alcohol you drink while breastfeeding. Not only can drinking too much make you produce less milk, but it can also potentially stunt your baby's development, according to the ACOG.

With that in mind, here's what to know about the do's and don'ts of drinking while you're breastfeeding.

Can I pump and dump?

The "pump and dump" technique — which entails pumping milk and then discarding it — may help to relieve engorged breasts but it won't make your milk any safer, says Monica Grover, DO, MS, a double board-certified gynecologist in obstetrics and family medicine and chief medical officer of VSPOT.

The idea behind pumping and dumping is that you're pumping out any milk that contains alcohol, so the next time you pump or nurse the milk is alcohol-free. But alcoholic milk doesn't come in batches. 

What's important to know is that, if there is alcohol in your blood-stream, it will show up in your milk no matter how many times you pump. 

How long you should wait after drinking to breastfeed

The ACOG advises waiting two hours after having a drink before pumping or breastfeeding to give your body time to break down the alcohol. 

However, Grover notes that there are a few factors that can affect how long it takes for alcohol to metabolize — like your weight, what you're drinking, and whether or not you've recently eaten. 

For example, according to a 2022 review, food delays alcohol metabolization, so you may need to wait even longer than two hours if you're eating and drinking at the same time.

It's also important to consider the strength and volume of what you're drinking since the concentration of alcohol in your milk depends on the level of alcohol in your blood, says Grover. 

For example, drinking one shot of 80-proof liquor has 40% alcohol by volume, whereas one 5-ounce glass of wine has 12% alcohol, and one can of beer has 5% alcohol. 

So, if you drink one shot of liquor you'll have significantly more alcohol in your blood than if you had a beer and will need to wait longer to metabolize all that alcohol out of your system.

"Remember that everyone metabolizes alcohol differently, and that rate can change from day to day," says Kecia Gaither, MD, a double board-certified physician in OB-GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine and Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.

Also, the more alcohol you consume, the longer it stays in your blood and breast milk. Whereas alcohol from one drink can be detected in breast milk for two to three hours, alcohol from three drinks may remain in the breast milk for six to eight hours.

Since the timing can vary, Grover recommends waiting as long as possible — but at least two just to be safe. 

What alcohol does to breast milk and the baby

Drinking in moderation (meaning one drink per day) is not considered dangerous for a baby, as long as the mother waits at least a couple of hours before pumping or nursing.

It's when you start drinking more that it becomes a problem. For example, according to the ACOG, regularly having more than two drinks a day while breastfeeding may cause abnormal weight gain, drowsiness, and weakness in your baby. 

And a 2013 review found that infants slept an average of 25% less after ingesting milk that contained alcohol. The review also found that infants who were fed milk from women with the highest alcohol intake scored significantly lower on scales for psychomotor development (i.e. cognitive, emotional, physical movement, and social capabilities).

The reason being that, even though a baby is only exposed to about 5%-6% of the amount of alcohol the mother drinks, they eliminate the alcohol at only half the rate of an adult due to a smaller, still-developing liver. 

Since it takes longer for the baby to flush the alcohol out of their system, they have longer exposure to it and its potentially harmful effects.

The other problem with drinking and breastfeeding is that it reduces the amount of milk you produce. In fact, just one or two drinks can reduce how much milk your baby drinks by 20%-23% because alcohol makes nerves in your nipples less sensitive to your baby's mouth reducing how much milk you can release during nursing.

"Without this reflex, your baby cannot nurse and empty the breast effectively," says Grover. Making matters worse, "when milk stays in the breasts, that sends a signal to your body to reduce production."

Tips and non-alcoholic alternatives

If you want to have an alcoholic beverage on occasion while breastfeeding, here are some tips from Grover to keep in mind:

  • Nurse before you have a drink
  • Pre-pump milk and refrigerate it ahead of time
  • Limit consumption to one drink per day, timed with your feeding schedule in mind
  • Use alcohol test strips before pumping or nursing to make sure the alcohol has left your bloodstream
  • Enter your weight and alcohol consumption into a breastfeeding-specific calculator to determine when it's safe to breastfeed

There are also plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives to enjoy while nursing. Here are a few that Grover recommends:

Something to keep in mind with coffee and tea: the ACOG recommends limiting caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams per day while breastfeeding. You may want to avoid caffeine or limit your consumption as much as possible right after your baby is born, since newborns are particularly sensitive to caffeine's effects in the first couple of weeks after delivery, according to the ACOG.

Insider's takeaway

Moderate alcohol consumption — one drink a day — isn't dangerous for your baby, as long as you wait at least two to three hours before pumping or breastfeeding. 

However, the more you drink, the greater the chance that not only your milk production will decrease, but also that the alcohol may be harmful to your baby.

Remember: How much you drink, what you drink, and even your weight all play a role in how long the alcohol stays in your system (and milk). 

In order to minimize any risks to your baby's development, you may want to stick with beverages that have a lower concentration of alcohol like beer and wine, or opt for non-alcoholic alternatives.

If you ever begin to suspect that your drinking habits may be interfering with your ability to breastfeed or otherwise posing any risks to the health or well-being of your baby, Grover recommends talking with your doctor — they can assess what changes might be necessary and support you in getting whatever help you need to make those changes.


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