Breastfeeding: Smoking and alcohol

Learn more about how smoking or consuming alcohol affects breast milk and nursing mothers’ bodies.

While smoking and drinking alcohol are never encouraged, the occasional use of either is not prohibited for breastfeeding mothers.

Clearly it’s not ideal to smoke and breastfeed, but it is worse to smoke and not breastfeed. Nicotine levels in a baby’s bloodstream are greater from breathing secondhand smoke than from taking in the amount the baby gets in breast milk after mom has a cigarette. Trying to stop smoking or using nicotine patches or gum is a safer option than continued smoking. Mothers are advised to limit smoking as much as possible.

Neither is the occasional use of alcohol prohibited. Alcohol levels in breast milk are similar to the levels of alcohol in the mother’s blood. Alcohol levels in breast milk peak in breast milk about 30 to 60 minutes after drinking on an empty stomach, and 60 to 90 minutes after drinking on a full stomach. One drink takes about two hours to leave the body, and two drinks take about four hours. The amount a woman drinks determines how long the alcohol remains in her body. The more a woman drinks, the longer it takes for her body to process the alcohol. It is often recommended that a mother nurse before consuming any alcohol. This will put as much time as possible between drinking and the next feeding. If you drink, have no more than one or two drinks a week and breastfeed before consuming alcohol. It is not necessary to “pump and dump” breast milk with occasional alcohol intake.

For more helpful information on breast feeding, see these other Michigan State University Extension articles:

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