Alcohol Use: Know the Facts
Updated September 11th, 2019
Many Canadians drink alcohol occasionally to relax, socialize or celebrate. Some people use alcohol because they feel it helps with mental health problems and life’s stresses.
- If you use alcohol to manage your stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health symptoms the best choice is to seek other supports. Talk to your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, Family Doctor Finder can help.
- Also see our information on Well-Being and Mental Health.
Call Manitoba Addictions Helpline 1-855-662-6605 if:
- You are concerned about your drinking
- Alcohol is affecting your family and/or your relationships
Even though alcohol is commonly used, there is no amount that is safe in pregnancy. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. Alcohol use can affect health, learning, relationships, children and parenting. For more information check out Alcohol and Pregnancy: With Child Without Alcohol.
Alcohol and Fertility
In males alcohol can:
- decrease sperm production and quality
- reduce your sex drive
- can cause erection problems
In females alcohol can:
- affect fertility
- When planning a pregnancy, it’s safest not to drink any alcohol because you might be pregnant and not know it for up to 4-6 weeks. During this time your unborn baby’s brain is already developing. You could be drinking and exposing your unborn baby to alcohol without meaning to.
- If you didn’t know you were pregnant, stopping or reducing alcohol use as soon as possible is the safest choice. If you choose to use alcohol despite the risks, use as little as possible.
- Stopping alcohol use can be difficult, especially if you are also trying to cut down on other substances. While alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis are all harmful to your unborn baby, alcohol causes the most harm and should be what you quit first.
- If you find it difficult to stop using alcohol, speak with your health care provider about the safest way to quit. For other supports see Government of Manitoba-FASD Prevention.
Alcohol and Pregnancy
When you are pregnant your unborn baby is connected to you by your placenta. Your placenta sends what you eat, drink and breathe to your unborn growing baby.
If you drink alcohol during pregnancy, it passes on to your baby. The baby’s organs are developing and cannot break down the alcohol like you can. Alcohol use during pregnancy may cause permanent damage to the baby’s brain and spinal cord. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.
Did you know?
- Consuming alcohol at any time during pregnancy can cause harm to your baby.
- The effects of alcohol will last for your baby’s lifetime
- Alcohol use can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
- FASD is a lifelong disability that can affect motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional control, and social skills.
- For more information check out:
- If you are worried your baby might have FASD talk to your health care provider. Getting diagnosed early and having the right supports can improve outcomes.
- Alcohol may cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)
- Babies who are exposed to drugs and/or alcohol during pregnancy may experience withdrawal symptoms (NAS) after birth such as tremors, irritability, poor feeding, diarrhea, vomiting, sleep problems, seizures.
- For more information check out Stanford Children’s Health- Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
Alcohol and Breastfeeding
When you drink alcohol it passes into your breastmilk. The safest choice is not to drink alcohol if you are breastfeeding because:
- drinking alcohol decreases your let-down reflex (it may take longer for your breasts to release your milk)
- drinking alcohol does not increase your milk production as urban myth suggests. Your baby’s feeding determines how much milk you make.
- babies may not like the taste of breastmilk containing alcohol which could make them drink less
- very young babies have immature organs which makes it harder for them to clear the alcohol from their bodies.
- alcohol may affect your baby’s sleep
How long does alcohol stay in my breastmilk?
On average it takes 2-3 hours to clear one standard size drink from your body.
How fast your body gets rid of alcohol depends on:
- the amount of alcohol you drank,
- how fast you drank it,
- whether you have eaten food,
- how much you weigh and
- how fast your body processes alcohol.
Do I have to pump and dump after drinking an alcoholic beverage?
No. As alcohol leaves your bloodstream, it leaves your breastmilk (it doesn’t stay in your breastmilk). Pumping and dumping, drinking a lot of water, resting, or drinking coffee will not speed up how quickly your body gets rid of the alcohol.
Can I have a drink and still breastfeed?
Mothers who only drink once in a while should continue to breastfeed, because the benefits outweigh the risks. Here are some ways to make it safer for your baby:
- it’s best if you can plan ahead if you are going to have a drink
- pump and store breast milk a couple days before your drink to have it ready to feed your baby.
- limit yourself to one drink or less per day.
- drink alcohol after breastfeeding (not before).
- wait two to three hours per drink before breastfeeding again to allow time for the alcohol to clear from your breastmilk and body.
- invite your partner to limit their alcohol use to support you.
Hot Parent Tips:
- Babies feed often in the first 3 months and during growth spurts. These are good times to limit your alcohol intake.
For more information on alcohol and breastfeeding see Best start’s Mixing Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Alcohol and Parenting
You can keep your children safe and model healthy attitudes about alcohol by drinking in moderation. See Canada’s low risk drinking guidelines.
Parents who drink alcohol need to be aware of the risks to their children. These include:
- Children should not consume alcohol because it can make them very sick and put them at risk of poisoning.
- Smaller children are at higher risk of poisoning because of their size and weight.
- Children can mistake drinks containing alcohol for regular drinks (punch, juice, slushies, Jell-O, pop, etc…) so alcoholic beverages should never be left unattended.
- Store all alcohol and products with alcohol (mouth wash, cosmetics, cleaning solutions etc.) out of the sight and reach of children, if possible, in a locked cabinet.
What to do if you think your child has swallowed alcohol:
- Call 911 right away if your child is:
- having difficulty breathing or breathing slowly
- having a seizure
- very sleepy or will not wake up
- Go to the emergency department if your child is:
- being silly/giddy
- having difficulty breathing,
- having trouble with coordination (unsteady walking)
- extremely sleepy or will not wake up.
- If you are not sure, call the Manitoba Poison Centre at 1-855-776-4766 or Health Links – Info Santé 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257 for advice.
Parenting your Kids:
Consuming alcohol can:
- reduce your ability to pay attention, make decisions and react to emergencies.
- change your behaviour such as making you aggressive, angry, sad or sleepy.
- affect your ability to respond to your child’s needs and keep him safe. You could miss if your child:
- is in danger and if he requires medical attention. If you are impaired you will not be able to drive your child for care.
- needs to be comforted
- shows cues for hunger
- needs to connect, play and learn
- Keep your child safe by always having someone available who is not impaired to take care of your child.
- Alcohol affects your judgment and ability to drive
- No one should ever drive impaired. Know the law.
- Always have a designated driver.
If you find it hard to cut back or stop drinking alcohol, talk to your health care provider.
For more information on Alcohol, please see:
- Alcohol and Pregnancy, With Child Without Alcohol- Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation
- Alcohol and Pregnancy: Child without Alcohol, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation
- Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines– Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
- Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome– Stanford Children’s Hospital