Maybe you’ve had a rough day and are craving a glass of wine. Perhaps it’s a birthday, and you want to enjoy a night out with friends and adult beverages. Maybe you’re just eyeing your fourth cup of coffee after a very long night.
Whatever your reason and liquid of choice, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, chances are you’ve wondered if it’s OK to give your baby your breast milk after indulging in alcohol. You may have heard of “pumping and dumping” and questioned whether you should do it.
While ultimately only you can make decisions about what your baby eats, we’ve got you covered with the research to help you make an informed decision around pumping and dumping the liquid gold known as breast milk.
Breast milk is called liquid gold for good reason! So, why would anyone want to get rid of it?
Pumping and dumping is a technique you can use if there are harmful substances in your breast milk for a period of time. It literally means pumping (or otherwise expressing) the breast milk out of the breast and then dumping it instead of giving it to your little one.
Pumping and dumping doesn’t change the content of the breast milk or get substances out of your system faster. It does ensure though that your baby doesn’t consume the substances in the milk. It also helps to keep your breasts from becoming engorged and mastitis from developing.
By pumping out milk when you’ve consumed certain things, you can keep your milk supply up while you wait for the substance in question to metabolize out of your bloodstream and your breast milk.
But, wait. Is this really something you need to do?
You can take a deep sigh of relief, because for a casual drinker who’s just having a glass of alcohol one or two times a week, there’s no need to pump and dump. You’ll still likely want to take some other steps to minimize the amount of alcohol passing through the breast milk to your baby.
Alcohol levels in breast milk are similar to alcohol blood levels, so time is your best friend when it comes to reducing the amount of alcohol in your breast milk.
It’s best to enjoy that alcoholic beverage right after pumping or breastfeeding your baby to allow your body maximum time (at least 2 to 2 1/2 hours) to metabolize out most of the breast milk before you’ll need to feed again.
While there’s still a shortage of research on the effects of alcohol and breastfed infants, 2013 research indicates that alcohol use when breastfeeding can interfere with let down and reduce the amount of milk produced by lactating women.
It can also potentially change the taste of the breast milk making the breast milk undesirable to some infants.
But if you have well established milk production and drink in moderation — taking measures to control the amount of alcohol passing through your milk — at least one study from 2017 determined your baby shouldn’t have negative outcomes in the first 12 months of their life. (There’s a shortage of studies to reveal any long-term results, either positive or negative.)
In cases of high alcohol consumption, baby may be sleepier after consuming the breast milk, but not sleep as long. There’s also some evidence in instances of higher alcohol consumption that child’s growth or motor function may be negatively impacted, but the evidence is not conclusive.
Bottom line? Drinking in moderation is likely fine while breastfeeding, but more research is needed. Drinking more heavily may have consequences for baby, but more research is needed.
In the past, there were recommendations that breastfeeding women follow similar guidelines to pregnant women when it came to limiting alcohol consumption in the early months of a child’s life. However, current research seems to indicate that these guidelines may be overly restrictive.
There still needs to be more research done on the immediate and long-term impact of alcohol, marijuana, and other substances on breastfed infants. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently advises breastfeeding women to avoid the “habitual use” of alcohol and encourages moderation in alcohol use while breastfeeding.
If you wish to drink, the AAP advises drinking right after nursing or expressing breast milk and waiting at least 2 hours before the next feeding. As research in these areas continue, more guidance from the AAP should hopefully become available.
In the meantime: Don’t feel mom-shamed by others for having that glass of wine during a well-deserved night out.
Medication use under the guidance of a doctor
Always check with your physician before breastfeeding while using prescription medications. You can also use LactMed (a national database on drugs that may impact breastfeeding women) to learn more about specific prescription medications — but this isn’t a substitute to talking with your doctor.
After consuming coffee or caffeine
There’s probably no need to pump and dump just because you’ve consumed some coffee or chocolate.
Research tells us nursing mothers can safely consume at least 300 milligrams of caffeine per day — which is roughly equivalent to 2 to 3 cups of coffee — without fear of your infant seeming jittery or losing sleep. (Some
Nursing mothers should try to breastfeed right before consuming caffeine and try to minimize their coffee and caffeine consumption when breastfeeding premature and newborn babies, as their under-developed systems metabolize it so much slower.
After smoking marijuana
Marijuana can pass through breast milk. While there’s still a need for more research in this area, marijuana use when breastfeeding may lead to complications in a baby’s development.
There’s just too much unknown here — but we do know that THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) is stored in body fat, and babies have a lot of body fat. So once in their bodies, THC may stay there longer.
Also, marijuana stays in your body longer than alcohol — which is not stored in fat — does, so pumping and dumping isn’t effective.
All this leads to recommendations that you not smoke or otherwise use marijuana while breastfeeding.
If you do smoke marijuana, in addition to not breastfeeding, you’ll want to use protocols like not smoking around baby and changing clothing before holding your little one again. Your hands and face should also be washed before holding a baby after smoking.
After recreational drug use
If you use recreational drugs in a one-off manner, it’s essential to pump and dump for 24 hours. It’s also necessary to find someone else able to care for and bottle feed your baby while you’re under the influence of drugs.
If you’re worried about the contents of your breast milk, pumping and dumping is certainly an option. Luckily, dumping out pumped milk is an option you may not often need, since occasional, moderate use of alcohol and caffeine shouldn’t require you to pump and dump.
If you’re taking prescription medications or are worried about the amount of toxic substances in your system, check with your doctor — they can give you case-specific advice.