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If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you’ve probably wondered at least once (and probably more than once!) if you can or need to “pump and dump”. While everyone hates to waste precious breast milk, there are definitely times when it isn’t recommended or possible to save or give your breast milk to your baby.
Let’s take a look at what these scenarios are and separate fact from fiction on pumping and dumping.
- What does “Pump and Dump” mean?
- Pumping and Dumping isn’t always necessary
- Quick guide for pumping and dumping
- These are a few instances to consider a Pump and Dump
What does “Pump and Dump” mean?
The phrase “pump and dump” actually means exactly what it sounds like. It’s best described as an action where a mother pumps out breast milk and throws it away instead of feeding it to her baby.1
So why would you need to do this? Sometimes it’s because of logistical issues like not having anywhere to store the breast milk at a safe temperature, and other times this is because you’ve had alcohol to drink or taken a medication that you don’t want passed along to your baby.
Pumping and Dumping isn’t always necessary
While there are times that pumping and dumping is the safest thing to do for your baby, it’s important to know that you don’t necessarily need to do this after having one sip of alcohol or any kind of medication.2
Like so many things in life, the answer is…it depends. When you need to pump and dump depends on a few factors, so let’s take a closer look.
Quick guide for pumping and dumping
We spoke with Jadah Parks Chatterjee, RN and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Here are her guidelines:
- Your milk is safe at room temperature (about 77 degrees) for up to 4 hours.
- Alcohol leaves the milk as it leaves the blood.
- If you feel tipsy, don’t breastfeed or share pumped milk with the baby until you feel sober.
- Alcohol levels show up (peak) in the blood stream 30 minutes – 1 hour after ingestion.
- If you have your pump with you (and a designated driver), enjoy your champagne following pumping.
These are a few instances to consider a Pump and Dump
Although all moms wish they could give every hard-earned drop of breast milk to their baby, it may not always be the best idea. Here are some times that pumping and dumping may be your best bet:
Pump and Dump during a weekend getaway without the baby
If you’re headed out of town without your baby and there’s no place to store the milk, then pumping and dumping might be a good idea. This will take away the feeling of discomfort, especially since your body won’t be used to the lack of demand for the milk.3
If you need to do this, it’s best to try and pump at the same times your baby would usually breastfeed so you can keep on a schedule and maintain your supply.3
Pump and Dump during a work trip
If you’re going on a business trip, then you’ll definitely be away from your infant for a longer period of time. And like a weekend getaway, you may not have easy access to the right temperature storage. The same idea applies here- if you want to keep your supply steady, you can pump and dump at around the same times each day you would normally feed your baby or pump.
Pump and Dump if you don’t have a clean space to pump
If you need to, but don’t have a clean place to pump, then it might be best to dump the milk rather than saving it for your baby. It’s important to always pump somewhere clean where you can wash or sanitize your hands first.3
Pump and Dump after a night out without your infant
Are you in need of a date night with your partner? Or a night on the town with friends? It’s likely you won’t have anywhere to store pumped milk and won’t have a clean place to pump. If you’ll be out long enough that you might become uncomfortable from engorgement, you may need to pump and dump for your own comfort.
If you are able to hand express milk, this is also an option that can avoid the need to lug along a pump.3
Do you need to Pump and Dump after drinking alcohol?
Did that night out involve some alcohol? In that case, there’s more to consider than just your comfort while you’re out- you also have to consider whether your breast milk is still safe for your baby.
While it’s best not to consume alcohol when you’re breastfeeding, up to 1 drink per day is unlikely to cause harm to your baby. This is especially true if you wait at least 2 hours after having a single drink before breastfeeding. Any more than one drink a day is not recommended and could be harmful to your baby’s development.4
Levels of alcohol are highest 30-60 minutes after you have an alcoholic drink and alcohol can be detected in breast milk for about 2-3 hours after you have 1 drink. The more drinks you have, the longer alcohol can be detected in breast milk, so this goes up to 4-5 hours or so after 2 drinks and roughly 6-8 hours after 3 drinks, although times will vary a bit by person.4
If you’ve had a drink and need to pump or breastfeed within 2-3 hours, it might be best to pump and dump. Remember, pumping does not get rid of the alcohol in breast milk any faster. As long as there is alcohol in your blood, it will be in your breastmilk.4
Oh, and if you’ve ever had someone tell you that drinking alcohol will improve your milk supply, this is false. In fact, it may reduce milk ejection and the amount of milk your baby takes.1,5
Pump and dump during a thyroid scan
Thyroid scans and certain other types of medical imaging may require you to get a radioactive product. You will often need to stop breastfeeding before and/or after these scans for a certain amount of time. This amount of time depends on the type of radioactivity used, so it’s very important to talk to your doctor about this before having the scan.6
Pump and dump while on certain medications
While there are some medications that can pass to babies through breast milk and be dangerous, the good news is there are many medicines that are safe to take while breastfeeding. In most cases, you need to have a conversation with your doctor (and maybe also your baby’s healthcare provider) about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to taking any medications while breastfeeding so you can decide what’s best for you and your baby.6
Don’t forget- medications doesn’t just mean any prescriptions you take. This also means over-the-counter medicines, herbal medicines, supplements, and other drugs like marijuana. Be sure to tell your doctor about any of these you are taking so you can find out if there is any risk to breastfeeding while using them.6
If you need a medication that isn’t compatible with breastfeeding for a short time, you may be able to pump and dump while taking it, so be sure to ask if you can do this or if you need to stop breastfeeding entirely.
Breastfeeding and vaccines, can you do both?
For the most part, it’s safe for your baby if you get a vaccine while you’re breastfeeding. There is not typically a need to pump and dump after receiving a vaccine or to avoid getting a vaccine while breastfeeding.6,7
As with other medications, your doctor and your baby’s healthcare provider can give you the best information for your specific needs, so be sure to ask your medical support system any questions you have.8
Our final thoughts on whether moms need to Pump and Dump
Although there are times when you may need to pump and dump either because you don’t have a safe way to store your milk or your milk isn’t safe for your baby, luckily this doesn’t usually happen too much. Be sure to plan ahead when you can and talk to your doctor and/or your baby’s healthcare provider when you have any questions!
Verified by: Morgan Leafe, MD, MHA
1- Pumping and dumping myths | Northwestern Medicine
2- Breastfeeding: alcohol | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3- Pumping and storing breast milk | Office on Women’s Health
4- Breastfeeding and special circumstances: alcohol | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5- Drinking alcohol and breastfeeding | La Leche League International
6- The transfer of drugs and therapeutics into human breast milk: an update on selected topics | American Academy of Pediatrics
7- Vaccines | La Leche League International
8- COVID-19 vaccination considerations for obstetric-gynecologic care | American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology