There is a lot of conflicting information out there about what is safe when it comes to breastfeeding and alcohol – some experts say that if you’re sober enough to drive, you’re sober enough to breastfeed. Others say that breastfeeding mothers should avoid alcohol as much as possible. Here’s what you need to know about what the experts say, when it makes sense to pump and dump, plus an experiment I did with testing breast milk for alcohol to see what effect a few glasses of wine had on my breast milk.
Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?
When you drink alcohol, some amount of it goes into your breast milk. The amount depends on how much you drink, how much food you’ve recently eaten, your weight, your tolerance – all kinds of things.
As noted above, experts disagree with regard to what that means for breastfeeding moms. Below are some recommendations from different sources.
From Baby Center:
While no one knows the true effect that alcohol has on breastfed infants, it’s probably wise to abstain – at least in the very beginning. Some experts recommend breastfeeding moms avoid drinking alcohol until their baby is 3 months old.
From the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake but no more than 0.5 g alcohol per kg body weight, which for a 60 kg mother is approximately 2 oz liquor, 8 oz wine, or 2 beers. Nursing should take place 2 hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk.
From Dr. Thomas Hale:
[M]others who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal.
From the CDC:
Drinking alcoholic beverages is not an indication to stop breastfeeding; however, consuming more than one drink per day is not recommended.
Every mom will have to make a decision that she feels comfortable with. For me, that meant abstaining while pregnant and then not drinking more than one or two drinks at a time while breastfeeding. (That limit wasn’t hard for me, as the idea of having to pump and care for a baby while hungover was not at all appealing.)
So Should You Pump and Dump if You Drink Alcohol? What are the “Pump and Dump” Breastfeeding Rules?
The way alcohol works with regard to your breast milk is similar to alcohol in your bloodstream. As alcohol is broken down and metabolized by your liver, it leaves your system.
Here is an example of how it works:
- Say you breastfeed (nursing or pumping) at 7pm, and then have a drink at 8pm. The alcohol will enter your bloodstream and your breast milk. Once your liver has metabolized the alcohol, it will leave your milk just like it leaves your blood. You don’t have to pump the milk to remove the alcohol in it, any more than you need to remove your blood to get the alcohol out.
- Say you then pump at 10pm. There will be some alcohol in your milk, and you may want to dump it or not (depending on how you feel and your comfort level with alcohol in breastmilk).
- But what if you waited a few hours, and didn’t pump again until midnight? Then, the alcohol will be (most likely) out of your system and out of your milk, so there would be no need to dump it.
Therefore, you only need to pump and dump if you decide to pump for other reasons (such as for comfort or to maintain your milk supply). Otherwise, you can just wait until the alcohol leaves your system before breastfeeding again.
Testing Breast Milk for Alcohol Experiment
A few years ago, my kids were in bed for the night, and my husband was watching a gold mining show that I had zero interest in. I had found 15 unused Milkscreen breast milk test strips earlier that week while cleaning out a drawer, and I decided to entertain myself that evening by drinking wine and seeing how the Milkscreen registered it.
So after I put my daughter to bed, I pumped just enough milk to test in order to get a baseline view of what the strip looked like with no alcohol in the breast milk.
As I expected, the color didn’t change and aligned with the “you’re totally sober!” color on the chart.
I then started drinking the pictured glass of wine. I have to be honest here. I had been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for four years, and as a result, the tolerance was not strong with this one.
Because I was a bit of a lightweight, half an hour later, I’d finished about half of the glass pictured above and I felt a pretty strong buzz. However, the test was still clear:
Over the next hour and a half, I finished that glass, drank half of another one, and tested every half an hour. All of the tests were negative. However, I was feeling the effects of the alcohol enough that I would not have driven or fed my baby at this point.
At this point, I was starting to become concerned that the Milkscreen tests were expired, or for whatever reason, just not working.
At 10:00pm, though, I finished my second glass of wine, and FINALLY saw a change in the test. I took another one at 10:30pm, which you can see is even darker.
When I took the last test at 10:30pm, I felt absolutely fine. However, that’s not what the test showed.
(I wanted to stay up and see how long it took for the milk come back out of my system, but my baby likes to be awake to see the sunrise and I needed to go to bed.)
So what to take away from that? It could be that my perception was off, it could have been that the tests weren’t working correctly, or it could mean that it’s wise to wait a bit longer after feeling “fine” before breastfeeding.
What do you think? Have you used Milkscreen breast milk alcohol test strips? Do you find it helpful?References
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Breastfeeding and alcohol.” https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/lifestyle/alcohol/
- BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board. “Alcohol and Breastfeeding.” https://www.babycenter.com/0_alcohol-and-breastfeeding_3547.bc
- CDC. “Is it safe for mothers to breastfeed their infant if they have consumed alcohol?” https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html