A nursing mother has to consider her baby before eating or drinking anything. She passes whatever she eats directly to her infant. After abstaining from all forms of alcohol throughout your pregnancy, you may be ready for a glass of wine or two, or at least a little wine in your food. However, before you reach for the corkscrew, make sure you know the facts about eating food cooked with alcohol while breastfeeding.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends exercising great caution if drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 2010, does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol completely for nursing mothers but advises sticking to only one alcoholic drink, at least four hours before you breastfeed, and then only when the baby is 3 months or older and in an established, predictable breastfeeding routine. Many experts advise total abstinence from alcohol during breastfeeding. No amount of alcohol in breast milk is deemed safe for an infant to drink, says Registered Nurse Elizabeth LaFleur in the article "Breast-feeding and Alcohol: is it OK to Drink?" for "Mayo Clinic." The guidelines do not cover food cooked with alcohol, so you should exercise the same level of caution.
How Much Alcohol Remains After Cooking?
The amount of alcohol that burns off during the cooking process depends on how long the food is cooked, the method and temperature of cooking, the type of dish it is cooked in, the specific type of alcohol used and the ingredients in the food itself, say David Joachim and Andrew Schloss in the article "Alcohol's Role in Cooking" in the February 2010 edition of "Fine Cooking." In general, the longer the cooking time, the less alcohol remains, according to the most recent Department of Agriculture Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, which was published in 2007.
If you do want to eat food cooked with alcohol while you are breastfeeding, do it in a way that poses the least danger to your infant. According to the Alcohol Burn-Off Chart produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, simmering food for several hours in a wide pan is the best way to remove the alcohol. This will result in only approximately 5 percent of the alcohol remaining in the food. On the other hand, if you add alcohol to a boiling sauce immediately before serving, approximately 80 percent of the alcohol will remain. Baking is the least effective way to burn off alcohol.
Better Safe Than Sorry
If you have any concerns about consuming any form of alcohol while breastfeeding, or your baby is not settled into a consistent breastfeeding routine, err on the side of caution and avoid using alcohol in your cooking altogether. Replace wine with chicken, beef or vegetable stock to add flavor, sugar or honey for sweetness, and red or white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice for acidity or deglazing. If you are dining in a restaurant or someone else has prepared a meal using wine during the cooking process, express your breast milk before eating and feed it to your baby later.