Q: [Infant] I’m looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day. It will be the first time my husband and I go out since the baby was born, but I’m nursing. My friends have told me to just ‘pump and dump’ and enjoy myself, but I’m not sure how it works?
A: There’s so much to celebrate following the birth of a baby. So what’s the harm of imbibing a little, right?
Women are cautioned against consuming alcohol while pregnant with good reason. However, the risks of drinking alcohol while breast-feeding aren’t as defined.
Many women think the “pump and dump” method will prevent them from passing along alcohol-laced milk, yet this is a myth. Alcohol leaves breast milk only as it leaves your bloodstream. Pumping and dumping doesn’t eliminate the alcohol — only time does.
However, you might opt to pump and dump for reasons of comfort, such as when you’ll be away from baby during a feeding time, and you don’t have an easy way to store your milk. Some women also pump and dump after drinking alcohol simply to stay on a consistent feeding schedule.
According to La Leche League, the effects of alcohol on breast-feeding babies correlate directly to the amount the mother consumes, even after pumping and dumping. Some studies indicate that the concentration alcohol in mother’s milk peaks between 30 and 60 minutes after consumption or between 60 and 90 minutes if consumed along with food. After one serving of wine or beer, the average 120-pound women will have alcohol in her system for two or three hours — even up to 13 hours for just one high-alcohol cocktail.
The Academy of Breast-Feeding Medicine advises limiting alcohol intake to 8 ounces of wine or two beers and waiting two hours after drinking to resume breast-feeding.
However, there may be no “safe” time to pump and dump. Alcohol thwarts milk production and affects babies’ sleep-wake patterns. Neither issue should be a problem if you have an occasional drink, so you could enjoy St. Patrick’s Day with green beer — within moderation, of course. But keep in mind that drinking more frequently could undo other healthy habits you’ve formed for you and your baby.
Pamela Pimentel, RN, CEO of MOMS Orange County. With over 39 years of experience in maternal/child health, Pimentel, RN, is a mom and baby expert. Since 2000, Pimental has helped many at-risk mothers have healthy babies through the nonprofit’s services. momsorangecounty.org