Caffeine and Breastfeeding
Many new mothers wonder (or fear) if beginning to breastfeed means quitting caffeine. This thought is particularly troublesome when a woman realizes her new motherly fate, which includes a significant lack of sleep. Although a cup of caffeinated coffee in the morning may help boost energy, thus helping mothers to manage sleep deprivation better, many remain concerned about the safety of caffeine during breastfeeding and how the stimulant impacts their babies.
Caffeine is a plant-derived compound that acts as a stimulant for the central nervous system. It can deliver higher energy levels and greater levels of alertness to those who consume it. Despite its health benefits, it may offer negative implications for the breastfed baby.
Effects of Caffeine on Breastmilk
Studies have determined that about 1% of the caffeine you consume passes through breast milk to your baby. Although the total amount may not seem like much, infants do not process caffeine the same way nor as quickly as adults.
Caffeine is considered to be generally safe during breastfeeding and is categorized as a Lactation Risk Category L2, meaning it is safer, usually peaking about 1-2 hours after ingestion. The American Academy of Pediatrics has coined caffeine as being a “Maternal medication usually compatible with breastfeeding.”
Although caffeine is considered to be mostly safe, there are still risks associated with drinking it during breastfeeding. Many of the risks are linked to higher caffeine consumption. One study indicated that the iron content of breastmilk might decrease due to chronic coffee drinking, likely due to the acids found in coffee.
When an adult drinks caffeine, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream by way of the gut. The liver then takes action and breaks it into compounds that put it to use for different bodily functions and organs.
Caffeine remains in the body for three to seven hours in healthy adults, but infants retain it for 65 to 130 hours, due mostly to their not yet fully developed kidneys and liver. Infants may start showing symptoms of the effect of caffeine within hours after their mother consumes caffeine. These symptoms may last for days.
Newborns have the hardest time processing caffeine that passes through breast milk. As a baby gets older, his or her ability to break down caffeine increases and the amount of time it remains in his system is reduced. Babies older than 4 months of age may be better to process caffeine, so symptoms may not last as long.
Additionally, mothers face risks of excessive caffeine intake as well. The negative effects associated with caffeine consumption include jitters, anxiety, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and insomnia, according to multiple studies.
Does Caffeine Decrease Milk Supply?
Some mothers are concerned that caffeine may decrease their milk supply. There is not any evidence that supports the claim that caffeine consumption leads to a decreased milk supply. One 1994 study found that caffeine does not change the composition of breast milk but instead stimulates milk production. However, there are not many other studies that make this claim.
How Much Caffeine is Too Much when Breastfeeding?
The best way to determine how much caffeine is best for your baby is to monitor your baby to determine how he or she responds to the amount of caffeine you are drinking. Various sources recommend that breastfeeding mothers should not exceed somewhere between 300 (two to three 5-oz cups) to 750 mg (five 5-oz coups) of caffeine per day.
During pregnancy, the recommendation is not to exceed 300 mg/day of caffeine consumption. Some breastfeeding moms and their providers prefer to stay within those limits while others find that consuming as much as 750 mg of caffeine per day does not adversely affect their infant.
Interestingly, babies of mothers who drank caffeine during their pregnancy are often less sensitive to caffeine consumption post-birth.
If your baby seems irritable or has trouble sleeping long, it may be a good idea to cut back on caffeine or eliminate it for a while to determine if the amount of caffeine in your diet is affecting him.
Sources of Caffeine
Most people first think of coffee when thinking about beverages that contain caffeine, but many different foods and drinks contain this plant-based compound. If you are concerned about the amount of caffeine you consume for the sake of your breastfed baby, keep in mind these other foods and drinks that contain caffeine (including the last in the list, which may surprise you):
- Coffee, which contains 60 to 200 mg/caffeine per 8-ounce cup
- Energy drinks, which contain 50 to 160 mg/caffeine per 8-ounce cup
- Soda, which contains 30 to 60 mg/caffeine per 12-ounce serving
- Brewed tea, which contains anywhere from 9 to 110 mg/serving
- Hot chocolate, which contains 3-32 mg/caffeine per 8-ounce cup
- Decaf coffee, which contains 2-4 mg/caffeine per 8-ounce cup
Coffees and teas, as well as many other caffeinated beverages, can vary in the amount of caffeine per serving – often depending on how they are prepared and which type of bean (coffee) or leaf (tea) they come from. These numbers are only approximate.
Other sources of caffeine include candy, chocolate, supplements, some medications and any other food or drink that claims to boost energy.
Managing Caffeine Consumption while Breastfeeding
Caffeine can be enjoyed in moderation by many breastfeeding mothers. Below are some tips to wisely manage your consumption of caffeine while breastfeeding.
Monitor your baby. If your baby becomes restless or fussy, he may be sensitive to caffeine, and it may be time to cut back on the amount you drink. See how your baby responds for 2-3 weeks then consider introducing a little back in if you feel it is necessary.
Drink caffeine after a nursing or pumping session. To allow the caffeine content in your breast milk to drop, consider drinking your cup of coffee right after a nursing session.
Try half-caf. If you want to reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet but are not ready to cut it out altogether, consider making a mix of regular and decaf coffee. Put the same amount of grounds in your coffee maker but divide it up between both types.
If you have to cut out caffeine for a while, it likely won’t last forever. Remember that we mentioned before that as an infant grows, his body processes caffeine more efficiently? It means that if you need to cut out caffeine for a time, it will not be permanent. Your child may be able to handle caffeine better as he gets a little bigger.
For more tips about drinking caffeine while breastfeeding as well as advice about the safety or risks, you can talk to a lactation consultant or doctor.