Do Breastfeeding Moms Always Need to Pump & Dump? Maybe Not, Says Science


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Due to advice from physicians and scientists, drinking while breastfeeding has historically been either a huge no-no, or has required a pretty serious pump-and-dump action. While many are still engaging in heavy debate around whether or not it's safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, new research confirms that alcohol consumption while nursing may not be nearly as harmful as many believe it to be.

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A study published by the Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs (APSAD) explored the effects of alcohol consumption in nursing mothers on their kids. The study, which was formally presented in Melbourne in November of 2017, ultimately concluded that moms can consume alcohol -- without having to pump and dump afterward -- without causing harm to their breastfeeding children. 

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To conduct the study, researchers gathered data from 457 breastfeeding women and their babies at 8 weeks and 12 months postpartum. The scientists found that 60 percent of moms with infants 8 weeks old admitted that they drank regularly, while 67 percent of moms with children 12 months old admitted the same. When compared to the babies of nursing mothers who abstained from alcohol, the children of the women who drank showed no differences in breastfeeding duration, sleep, or overall development. In fact, scientists found that the 8-week-old infants whose mothers admitted to drinking went on to have better social skills at 12 months old. 

This isn't the first study to come to this conclusion. A 2013 study exploring alcohol and breastfeeding found that when nursing mothers drink, only small traces of alcohol are found in their breast milk, and even less than that actually goes on to be ingested by their babies. "The amount of alcohol presented to nursing infants through breast milk is approximately 5–6% of the weight-adjusted maternal dose," the study concluded. "And even in a theoretical case of binge drinking, the children would not be subjected to clinically relevant amounts of alcohol."

One study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and published in 2007 even suggested that breastfeeding women get significantly less impaired by alcohol than moms who formula feed. While the reasoning behind this remains a bit unclear, scientists suspect that it is due to milk production lowering blood alcohol levels. 

As for the drawbacks of drinking while nursing, there seem to be very few. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that alcohol consumption may inhibit the milk ejection reflex and result in a temporary decrease in overall milk production. Two studies published in 1991 and 2001, respectively, suggested that babies who nursed after their mothers had been drinking had their sleep patterns disturbed in minor ways. These studies were small, involving only one or two dozen children, and have not been further investigated to determine long-term consequences. 

Current guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology tell mothers to wait at least two hours between consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol and nursing their children.

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Ultimately, it still isn't safe to binge drink and then breastfeed your kids (duh), but the evidence seems to suggest that drinking moderately while you're nursing is incredibly unlikely to have any negative effects on your baby. There's no need to completely abstain or always go through the trouble of pumping and dumping perfectly good breast milk. For parents, it is important to use discretion, understand the risks, and, of course, ask your child's doctor to help you make the decisions that you feel are best for you. Just know that the two glasses of wine you have on New Year's Eve aren't going to make you a "bad mom."

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