Here in the U.S., we like our expectant mothers and our actual mothers sober. So much so that after 9 months of stone cold sobriety, you are expected to keep your hands off the hooch for as long as you might be breastfeeding, too. There is even a name for the process whereby breastfeeding mothers who have indulged in a little wine dispose of breast milk rather than feeding the alcohol-infused nutrients to their young. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “pump and dump” refers to breastfeeding mothers expressing their milk — or liquid gold, as we like to refer to it — in an effort to flush their systems after consuming alcohol, and then disposing of that milk.
As Shakespeare famously wrote, to pump and dump or not to pump and dump; that is the question. The good news is, pumping and dumping is a myth. The bad news is, it wont seem to die.
It’s ironic really, because you need the mood altering, de-stressing effects of alcohol way more once that baby comes out than you ever needed it before entering the parenting trenches! There’s just something about spit up, dirty diapers, and being milked like a dairy cow that makes you want to dive head first into a bottle of vino.
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And it’s actually perfectly safe, according to Dr. Pamela Ponce, a board certified pediatrician practicing in Orlando, FL. Pumping doesn’t actually speed up the removal of alcohol from your system. Instead, it’s recommended that women wait at least two hours after consuming alcohol before resuming nursing. At the two-hour mark, the concentration of alcohol in your breast milk will have significantly decreased. The general rule of thumb is, wait until you’re no longer buzzed; that’s when it’s safe to start breastfeeding again.
Scientifically, the risks are low. “Occasional drinking while breastfeeding has not been convincingly shown to adversely affect nursing infants,” a study from the journal Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology found. “Special recommendations aimed at lactating women are not warranted,” the study concluded. “Instead, lactating women should simply follow standard recommendations on alcohol consumption.”
But the study went a step further. “Even in a theoretical case of binge drinking, the children would not be subjected to clinically relevant amounts of alcohol.”
Nevertheless, the accepted position is that nursing moms should just not drink. In fact, I’m sure some of you might be wondering why nursing mothers are consuming alcohol in the first place. Don’t they realize they’re supposed to stop deriving enjoyment from life as soon as their baby emerges?
Having nursed both of my children until they were one, I feel uniquely qualified to answer this question. After nine long months of abstaining from all vices, followed by the excruciating process of squeezing not so tiny humans out of our bodies, only to suffer through cracked nipples and sleepless nights, we deserve to indulge. At least a little bit! Becoming a mother doesn’t mean you forfeit your right to enjoy a glass of wine now and again, or even your right to shower daily (although it’s far easier to find the time to drink a glass of wine than it is to shower in peace once you enter motherhood).
During my experience with breastfeeding, I occasionally drank a glass of wine. I always nursed my babies and put them to sleep before popping that cork open, though. I wasn’t concerned with either of them waking up and needing to be nursed in the middle of the night so I never pumped to flush my system. I did pump before going to sleep though because my breasts would be uncomfortably full and I found it impossible to sleep without relieving that pressure. I chose to keep the expressed milk versus disposing of it because I was always past the two-hour mark and I wasn’t worried about traces of alcohol being present in my system.
For me, continuing to enjoy a glass of wine with my husband helped me to feel more relaxed and gave me something to look forward to after a particularly trying week. I don’t regret my decision.
Obviously nursing mothers should exercise good judgement and imbibe alcohol less frequently than before they became mothers. But extinguishing the desire to unwind with a glass of wine is unnecessary.