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Drinking While Breastfeeding: Is "Pumping and Dumping" Necessary?

Many new mothers choose not to drink alcohol while breastfeeding. However, you may be wondering if having a glass of wine at a family gathering or your office party is healthy or could ultimately hurt your child. There are many myths surrounding alcohol consumption and breastfeeding, and some of the facts may surprise you.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption and Breastfeeding Don’t Mix

“Breastfeeding your child is important for so many reasons. It provides your baby with balanced nutrition perfectly designed by nature for their stage of life,” says Steven A. Shapiro, DO, chair of the Pediatrics Department at Abington - Jefferson Health. “It also helps to boost your child’s immune system and has been shown to impart health and developmental benefits into childhood and beyond.”

It’s good for the mother as well, helping to create a bond between mother and child, shrink the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size and reduce uterine bleeding, shed pregnancy weight and reduce post-partum depression.

However, just as excessive alcohol is incompatible with many other parts of life, it’s also not a good idea to drink excessively and frequently while breastfeeding. Moderation is the key, and you should always follow your doctor’s advice and drink sensibly – or not at all – if you are breastfeeding.

It’s Safe to Breastfeed When You Feel “Normal”

“A doctor named Thomas Hale wrote a book called Medication and Mother’s Milk, which is the gold standard medical professionals use when deciding what’s safe during breastfeeding,” say Dr. Shapiro. “His recommendation, which is the one I make to my patients, is that once you feel ‘neurologically normal,’ it is safe to breastfeed.”

This means that if you are sober, it’s perfectly fine to breastfeed your baby. A good rule of thumb for judging the appropriate time is to use driving as your guideline. If you could safely and legally operate your car, you are fine to breastfeed.

“Pumping and Dumping” Is Not Necessary

Many women have been advised to “pump and dump” their breast milk after consuming alcohol. This is completely unnecessary for keeping your baby safe.

“Alcohol does not accumulate in breast milk, which means that when your blood alcohol level returns to normal, so does your milk,” says Dr. Shapiro. “If you’re at a party and feel uncomfortably full then it’s perfectly fine to pump or express your milk, but that’s for your own comfort and not for the baby’s safety.”

Timing Is Everything

If you do plan to have a drink or two, it’s a good idea to plan those drinks around your feeding times. Most new moms feed their babies every two to three hours, which gives you a window to enjoy a drink—in moderation, of course.

“Since the alcohol in your systems peaks about 60 minutes after you drink, plan that drink shortly after you finish breastfeeding,” says Dr. Shapiro. “This will give your body time to process the alcohol before your next feeding.”

Age Matters, Too

Also consider your baby’s age when deciding if you should have a drink while breastfeeding. Infants are potentially at greater risk than older children.

“In the first two months of life, an infant’s liver is very immature and will have difficulty processing toxins such as alcohol,” says Dr. Shapiro. “By the time they reach three or four months old, they can excrete toxins at about 50 percent the rate of an adult. Kids older than that have mature livers.”

With a few precautions and an eye toward moderation, you can enjoy a drink. Of course, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pediatrician if you have any questions or special medical concerns.

To find an Abington - Jefferson Health pediatrician, call 215-481-MEDI.

Page last reviewed: February 1, 2018
Page last updated: February 1, 2018

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