Breastfeeding and alcohol

Key points about breastfeeding and alcohol

  • When you are breastfeeding, anything you eat or drink can find its way into your breast milk – including alcohol.
  • Many parents may want to drink, but have concerns about any possible effects on their baby. 
  • The best advice is to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding, especially during the first month. 
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If you do choose to drink it is safest to:
  • avoid breastfeeding for 2–3 hours afterwards for each standard drink you have. (You can use the Feed Safe NZ app to calculate how long until there should be no alcohol in your breastmilk)
  • make sure that your baby has someone looking after them who is alert to their needs
  • never share a bed or sofa with your baby if you have had any alcohol. 

Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol while you are breastfeeding could harm your baby. Research suggests that breastfed babies whose mothers drink 1 to 2 standard drinks of alcohol or more per day on a regular basis may have impaired motor development, disturbed sleep and slow weight gain.

Drinking too much alcohol can also affect your ability to care for your baby. If you choose to have a few drinks, make sure that your baby has someone looking after them who is alert to their needs. Never share a bed or sofa with your baby if you have had any alcohol. Doing this increases the risk of sudden unexplained death or accidental smothering.

When you drink, alcohol passes from your stomach into your bloodstream and from there into your breast milk. The level of alcohol in your breast milk is approximately the same as the level in your blood. These levels peak about 30 to 40 minutes after you’ve had your drink, and then they both start to drop as your body breaks the alcohol down.

A newborn baby has an immature liver and it takes twice as long for their body to break down alcohol as it does for adults. 

If you do choose to drink, it is safest to avoid breastfeeding for 2–3 hours afterwards for each standard drink you have. This allows the alcohol to clear from your breast milk. A convenient time to have a drink is just after you have breastfed your baby. This will allow the alcohol to clear from your breast milk during the natural interval between breastfeeding sessions.

One standard drink is approximately:

  • 100ml (small) glass of wine
  • 330ml of beer
  • a single (30ml) measure of spirits. 

Keep in mind that not all wine and beer is the same strength. One standard drink will be contained in a smaller volume if you are drinking ‘strong’ beer or fortified wine. 

If you have a social occasion to attend where you intend to drink more than one standard drink, plan ahead and express. The expressed breast milk can be fed to your baby while the alcohol is clearing from your body.

Your breasts may become uncomfortably full if you skip a breastfeeding session so you may wish to “pump and dump”. This will help prevent engorgement and maintain milk supply. Keep in mind that this doesn’t speed the elimination of alcohol from your body. 

Yes, there is an app called Feed Safe NZ. It contains official recommendations from Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora, along with contact details for breastfeeding information and support services.

Promotional material for the app says it contains answers to the most common questions about alcohol and breastfeeding. Among its features, the app has a timer, which uses a mother's height, weight and alcohol intake to estimate when her breast milk should be free of alcohol.

There is no evidence that drinking alcohol, including stout, will help you produce more milk. Alcohol actually decreases the milk let-down reflex, causing a temporary decrease in milk production. In addition, the presence of alcohol in breast milk has been shown to cause babies to drink about 20% less than usual. 

The following links provide further information about breastfeeding and alcohol. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations. 

Breastfeeding – getting out and about(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora
Breastfeeding and drinking alcohol(external link) NHS Choices, UK
Breastfeeding and alcohol(external link) KellyMom, US
Alcohol and breastfeeding(external link) Australian Breastfeeding Association


  1. Alcohol and breastfeeding(external link) Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, November 2013
  2. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol(external link) National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia, 2009
  3. Drinking guidelines for pregnancy and breastfeeding(external link) International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, Updated Feb 2016
  4. Alcohol and pregnancy – a practical guide for health professionals(external link) Health Promotion Agency, NZ, 2015

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Credits: Healthify Editorial Team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Lee-Ora Lusis, Clinical Nurse Manager

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