Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding and Substance Use: What you Need to Know
Updated February 13th, 2024
Alcohol and Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding
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.
For more information on breastfeeding click here.
Tobacco and Breastfeeding
The healthiest choice for your baby is to breastfeed and for you to avoid tobacco use. If you can’t stop or cut down, breastfeeding is still recommended. Breastmilk gives your baby immunities to help fight illness. It can also help lessen some of the negative effects of tobacco on your baby.
- If you choose to smoke while breastfeeding follow these tips to help protect your baby:
- Try to cut down. For support with quitting or cutting down visit Smoker’s helpline and/or talk to your health care provider or public health nurse.
- Don’t smoke right before or during breastfeeding. This way there won’t be as much nicotine in your milk and your baby won’t be exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Wait as long as possible between smoking and breastfeeding.
- Keep your home smoke free. Smoke outside, away from your baby and other children. Don’t allow anyone else to smoke near your baby.
- Don’t wear your baby (in a baby carrier) while smoking
- Protect your baby from thirdhand smoke. Wash your hands and change your clothes after you smoke and before you hold your baby.
For more information on tobacco use click here.
Cannabis and Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding
When you use cannabis the active chemical called THC, is stored in your fat cells (like your brain and breast tissue). When your baby breastfeeds, THC is passed through your breast milk and it enters your baby’s brain and body, where it can remain for weeks.
When a baby is exposed to cannabis through breastmilk, the effects are similar to when a baby is exposed during pregnancy. The baby may have sleep problems, be fussier and startle easily. As the baby grows, they may have problems with memory, reasoning, focusing and be easily distracted.
- The healthiest choice for your baby is to breastfeed and avoid cannabis use. For more information on breastfeeding your baby click here.
- If you choose to use cannabis while breastfeeding despite the risks, use as little as possible.
For more information on cannabis use click here.