Alcohol and Pumping: When to Pump and Dump

Pumping after drinking won't speed up alcohol metabolism

Breast pump next to baby.

Jamie Grill / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

After nine months of abstaining from alcohol, a glass of wine or beer can be a special treat for some parents. If you're breastfeeding, you might wonder if it's safe to have a drink and still breastfeed your baby, or whether you need to "pump and dump" (throw out expressed breast milk after drinking alcohol). Learn more about alcohol and pumping after drinking and when it's safe to breastfed your baby again if you've consumed alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Provided that you drink moderately and give your body time to metabolize the alcohol, you can enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage without worrying about harming your baby. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while avoiding alcohol is the safest option, consuming up to one standard drink per day is not known to have any adverse effects on infants.

"Alcohol levels are usually highest in breast milk thirty to sixty minutes after an alcoholic beverage is consumed, and can be generally detected in breast milk for about two to three hours per drink after it is consumed," says the CDC.

Wait at least two hours after having one drink before you breastfeed or pump milk for your baby to consume. Drinking more alcohol per day is not recommended—but if you do have more drinks, you'll need to wait longer before breastfeeding to prevent exposing your baby to alcohol.

Pumping After Drinking

Alcohol leaves your breast milk at the same rate that it leaves your bloodstream. The only way to rid your body of alcohol is to let time do its job. Pumping won't make the alcohol leave your milk supply (or your body) any faster than simply waiting. In fact, the idea that pumping and dumping rids your breast milk of alcohol is a myth (as is the mistaken theory that alcohol can improve your milk supply). Even moderate drinking can disrupt lactation.

If you've recently had a drink and it's the time when you would normally feed your infant, you might have to pump to prevent breast engorgement and maintain your milk supply. In this case, you should dump the milk you expressed.

But do not nurse until you feel sober. Every person's body processes alcohol at a different rate. However, it typically takes about two to three hours per drink for alcohol to be eliminated from breast milk. If you have more than one drink, you'll need to wait an additional two hours per drink.

If you have reached a level of intoxication that makes it unsafe for you to hold your baby, do not do so. Additionally, if you're intoxicated, have someone else care for your baby or leave your baby in a safe sleep space, such as their crib, until you can safely take care of them again.

If you have had only one drink and are sober enough to safely handle your baby, it's not necessary for you to pump and dump, unless you are doing it for your comfort. As the alcohol leaves your bloodstream, it will also leave your breast milk. So, after waiting a few hours, your breast milk will again be safe for your baby.

The simplest thing to do is to give your body time to get your blood-alcohol level back to normal before breastfeeding. Also, if you know you're going to be drinking and are worried about the potential effects on your infant, consider storing some pumped breastmilk for the occasion or giving them a bottle of formula if needed.

What Experts Say

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if a person chooses to have an alcoholic drink, they should drink in moderation and consume the beverage just after nursing or expressing rather than before. This timing will help you avoid exposing your baby to any breast milk with alcohol in it.

The AAP, CDC, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) all recommend waiting at least two hours per drink before the next breastfeeding or pumping session to ensure the body has ample time to rid itself of the alcohol before the next feeding.

In addition, La Leche League advises people who have been drinking to avoid bed-sharing with their infants as their natural reflexes will be affected. Bed-sharing while intoxicated increases your baby's risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to reduced milk production as well as short- and long-term effects on the infant, including problems with:

  • Academic performance later in life
  • Early development
  • Fluid retention
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Sleep
  • Weight gain

Parents who drink heavily are also at an increased risk for serious medical consequences, including liver, brain, and heart damage as well as mental health effects, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

When Can You Breastfeed After Drinking Alcohol?

It takes several hours for alcohol to leave your system. How long will depend on many factors, including how much alcohol you drank over a specific period of time. Essentially, the more you have to drink, the longer it will take to metabolize.

Another important factor is how much you weigh. A lower body weight generally means a slower metabolism of alcohol. Since women tend to have proportionally more body fat and less body water than men, alcohol tends to linger in their systems longer.

The amount of alcohol in your beverage of choice makes a big difference, too. For example, beer typically has about 5% alcohol, while spirits have about 40%. Note that the amount of alcohol in a glass of wine or beer is roughly equivalent to the alcohol in one cocktail, but of course, this depends on the portions used and the specific alcohol quantity and content in each spirit used.

Also, consider whether you have eaten. Your body absorbs less alcohol if you have food along with your drinks. Roughly 20% of the ethanol in liquor is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and the rest from the small intestine. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer it takes to be absorbed and the slower the rate of intoxication.

For example: If a person weighs 120 pounds, it will take about two to three hours for the body to eliminate one drink, defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a liquor such as vodka. If they have two drinks, it would take about five hours to metabolize the alcohol.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and breastfeeding.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Alcohol and breast milk.

  3. Haastrup MB, Pottegård A, Damkier P. Alcohol and breastfeedingBasic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2014;114(2):168–173. doi:10.1111/bcpt.12149

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Program. Frequently asked questions.

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastfeeding your baby.

  6. La Leche League International: Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.

  7. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Alcohol. National Library of Medicine.

  8. National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Are women more vulnerable to alcohol's effects?Alcohol Alerts.

  9. Cederbaum AI. Alcohol metabolism. Clin Liver Dis. 2012;16(4):667-85. doi:10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002

Additional Reading

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.