How Much Is OK to Drink When Breastfeeding?

The CDC Adds Its Voice to The Debate

by Alexis Barad-Cutler

The debate over alcohol and breastfeeding has been one of the most contentious of all mom related discussions. Ask any group of moms their opinions on the matter, and you’ll likely get a wide variety of answers — from those who wouldn’t dare look at an alcoholic beverage, to those who breastfeed while holding a martini. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decided to add its voice to the conversation about how much alcohol a nursing mother can ingest without worrying about harming her baby.

According to the CDC’s recent report, drinking alcohol no longer means you have to stop breastfeeding (however, consuming more than one drink per day is not recommended):

Generally, moderate alcohol consumption by a breastfeeding mother (up to 1 standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours after a single drink before nursing.
— https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html

The key here, is understanding what “moderate” means. According to the CDC, the safe amount of alcohol to drink while breastfeeding is limited to “up to” 1 standard drink per day. (One drink per day, as defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is 12 ounces of 5% beer; 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor; 5 ounces of 12% wine; or 1.5 ounces of 40% (80 proof) liquor.)  The CDC notes that most common drinks contain much more alcohol than the above quantities — but for wine, the standard pour of a glass is usually around 5 ounces, and the percentage of alcohol is, indeed, about 12%.

The CDC is not recommending that breastfeeding women drink, nor are they saying that drinking up to one drink a day is definitively not harmful to an infant — rather, they are saying that it is “not known to be harmful.” They do recommend that the mother waits at least 2 hours after a single drink before nursing.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is pretty much on the same page as the CDC. It also states, as the CDC’s site does, that breastfeeding 2 hours after a single alcoholic drink is a good way to decrease possible harmful effects of alcohol on an infant. Both the CDCD and ACOG stress that there is no need to “pump and dump” (i.e. discard your milk after drinking), as alcohol will leave milk when it leaves the blood stream. On their site, ACOG defines “excessive drinking” as more than two drinks, ingested on a regular basis (a slightly different definition than that of the CDC) . According to ACOG, more than two drinks per day, regularly — may be harmful to a baby, possibly causing “drowsiness, weakness, and abnormalities."

The CDC defines excessive alcohol consumption as anything including binge drinking, and heavy drinking — which (for women) can correspond to 4 or more drinks within about 2 hours, or 8 or more drinks per week . The possible effects that the CDC describes, of excessive alcohol consumption on breastfeeding infants over time include: decreased milk production, leading to shortened breastfeeding duration; as well as affects on infant sleep patterns and early development.

Looking at each organization’s individual definitions and recommendations side by side, it is not difficult to get lost in semantics. But the bottom line is, a standard sized drink semi-regularly (even daily), is not proven to be harmful to a baby. So, if one was to choose to imbibe that standard drink while nursing, one could probably feel OK with that choice. In the end, however, the experts advise that the absolute safest option for breastfeeding mothers, when it comes to consuming alcohol is — well — to avoid consuming it.