The 'Pump And Dump' Debate: Do You Throw Your Breastmilk Away?
Depending on what corner of the internet or which parenting book you’re reading, expectations of new mothers can be tough.
Eat healthily, don’t eat too much, stay hydrated, get fresh air, get exercise, meet people, don’t bring your newborn out of the house too soon, sleep when baby sleeps, don’t stress, forget the housework, and if you’re breastfeeding, don’t drink alcohol.
For the new mother who is sleep deprived and just trying to keep it together, these are challenging and often conflicting instructions, and can serve to be more of a hindrance than a help.
There are many myths out there too, especially on controversial topics like alcohol and breastfeeding – I remember googling to find out if it was really true that I couldn’t have a glass of wine when my first baby was a few weeks old. I found good information that suggested it’s similar to driving – if you feel okay to drive, you’re probably okay to feed your baby.
So my rule of thumb was to leave one hour after my glass of wine before feeding, and if I was out somewhere and had two or three glasses, I’d leave at least three full hours after my last drink before feeding again, and at that, only if I felt instinctively okay with it (mostly, I didn’t feel okay, and didn’t feed until morning). For proper nights out, I always left bottles of expressed milk for night feeds, because really, who wants to have that internal debate about alcohol levels at 4am? I followed the same logic with my next two babies, and happily had no-one to answer to but myself.
New mum and blogger Grace Mongey (FacesbyGrace.com) follows similar guidelines to the ones I did, leaving one hour per drink before breastfeeding her eight-week-old daughter Sienna. When she posted a picture on Instagram recently, about to go out with her boyfriend, she had no idea that she’d return to find negative comments about drinking and breastfeeding.
“My mam had Sienna and I had enough bottles to cover her for the night feeds,” says Grace. “The next morning when I woke up, I had to pump - I hadn’t fed since 5pm Saturday evening and my boobs were huge! We’d gone out early and finished early and I knew the milk was fine – so I pumped 150mls and was delighted with myself.”
As an ex-expresser, I know exactly how hard it is to get 150mls and how good you feel when you do.
Grace didn’t think any more of it, but when she checked Instagram later, she was surprised to find some negative reaction.
“There were comments like ‘You shouldn’t give that milk to your baby’, ‘You’ve been drinking vodka’, ‘I’ve seen you do it before’ - practically saying I would give alcohol to my baby. I was really hurt, and went onto Snapchat, where I said ‘Obviously people are concerned, so just to put everyone’s mind at ease…’ and I dumped the milk down the sink. The minute I did it, people started saying ‘I can’t believe you did that, you didn’t need to do it!’”
Grace knew the milk was fine, but understandably, the comments made her second-guess herself, and she poured it away. And as anyone who has ever accidentally or deliberately poured away hard-won liquid gold knows, the phrase “Don’t cry over spilt milk” doesn’t apply here.
So what is the truth about so-called pumping and dumping? It certainly causes confusion. I remember reading on more than one forum that if you pump your breast milk after drinking and throw it away, you can feed as normal – as though the milk with alcohol is replaced by milk without alcohol. Of course this isn’t the case – alcohol doesn’t accumulate in milk but leaves it like it leaves your blood. So pumping won’t make any difference – the replacement milk will still have alcohol in it. The only solution is to wait for time to elapse.
But this also means that if there’s no plan to feed the baby immediately after drinking, there’s also no need to pump – if enough time has gone by, the next feed will be perfectly fine. Though of course many mothers pump for comfort – otherwise engorgement can make it very uncomfortable to skip a feed.
My rule of thumb for this was straight forward – if I pumped straight after drinking, I’d dump the milk. If I pumped the next morning, and knew enough time had elapsed, I’d keep the milk.
It was a challenge eight years ago to find good information on alcohol and breastfeeding but this well-researched post on US parenting and breastfeeding site KellyMom.com provides great information. Written by IBCLC Kelly Bonyata, it says,
“There is no need to pump & dump milk after drinking alcohol, other than for mom’s comfort — pumping & dumping does not speed the elimination of alcohol from the milk.”
She also mentions the American Academy of Pediatrics who say “ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimised and limited to an occasional intake but no more than 0.5 g alcohol per kg body weight, which for a 60kg 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 minimise its concentration in the ingested milk.”
And she says that in general, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed.
So there’s no need to feel anxious about a glass of wine after a long day looking after a newborn, and no need to feel guilty about a night out after long weeks getting used to new motherhood.
And there’s defiintely no need to dump 150mls of liquid gold pumped ten hours after coming home from a night out – no matter what the online commenters say.
Research trumps anecdote, every time.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.