The Do's and Don'ts of Pumping and Drinking

Breast pump next to baby.
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After nine months of abstaining from alcohol, a glass of wine often seems like a special treat to a new mom. But if you're nursing, you may worry about whether it's safe to have a drink, or whether you should you "pump and dump," or throw out your breast milk after drinking alcohol, to protect your baby from ingesting it.

Here's the truth: The idea that "pumping and dumping" rids your breast milk of alcohol is a myth. (So is the theory that alcohol can improve your milk supply.) Alcohol leaves your breast milk at the same rate it leaves your bloodstream, so the only way to rid your body of it is to let time do its job. Pumping your milk won't make the alcohol leave your system faster. 

That means that you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time without fear of harming your baby—provided you drink responsibly and allow your body time to metabolize that alcohol before you nurse.

A good guideline: If you are sober enough to drive, then breastfeeding is probably just fine too.

The Reason to Pump and Dump

If you've recently had a drink and it's feeding time, you may have to pump to prevent engorgement of your breasts and maintain your supply. In this case, you should dump the milk that's tainted with alcohol. Essentially, if you need to express milk for any reason during the time you're waiting for the alcohol to leave your system, the milk pumped during this time should be thrown out.

If you aren't bothered by the wait, then the simplest thing to do is give yourself time to allow your blood-alcohol level to return to normal. Remember, pumping and dumping will not speed up how your body processes alcohol out of your system. 

When You Can Breastfeed After Drinking Alcohol

It takes several hours for alcohol to leave your system, and this time varies according to:

  • Your body weight (lower weight equals slower metabolism of alcohol)
  • How much alcohol you drank over a period of time (more drinks take more time to metabolize)
  • The amount of alcohol in your beverage of choice (beer typically has about 5 percent alcohol, while spirits have about 40 percent)
  • Whether you have eaten (consuming food while you drink means your body absorbs less alcohol)

For a woman who weighs 120 pounds, it takes about two to three hours to eliminate one serving of beer (12 ounces) or one serving of wine (5 ounces) from her body. For one high-alcohol drink (vodka, for instance), it can take up to 13 hours for the alcohol to metabolize.

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