After yet another sleepless night, 4am feed, or bleary-eyed diaper change, chances are you’ll need a coffee. But if you’re breastfeeding your baby, are you even allowed one? Here’s what you need to know about caffeine and breastfeeding.
Across countless internet lists of things mamas miss most during pregnancy, caffeinating almost always ranks highly. And when you finally have your babe in arms, you might be tempted to return to the ways of old, meeting every yawn or eye rub with another cup of Joe.
However, while tempting, the idea of switching back to pre-pregnancy levels of caffeine can prompt plenty of questions for breastfeeding mamas. Like, how much can you actually have? How much of it ends up in the breastmilk? Does it keep the baby awake? And is it safe?
Well, grab yourself a coffee (spoiler alert, you’re allowed!); because we have the answers.
Is it safe to drink caffeine while breastfeeding?
Let’s cut to the chase. It is absolutely safe to drink moderate amounts of coffee, tea, soda, or other caffeinated beverages when you’re breastfeeding. Just as it was safe to do so while you were pregnant.
So, you don’t have to go cold turkey when it comes to coffee and breastfeeding. Phew!
But before you brew your next pot or make a beeline for a can of something fizzy, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
- Trace amounts of caffeine can make its way from your bloodstream into your breast milk.
- Caffeine in breast milk is at its peak around 60 - 120 minutes after you’ve consumed it.
- Although the level is typically too small to be harmful, some babies can be more sensitive to its presence in the milk than others.
- If you notice your baby is having trouble sleeping or is extra fussy, restless, hyper, or irritable post-feed (and after you’ve had caffeine), it could be a sign that you need to cut down.
Wait, does caffeine in breast milk really keep baby awake?
Yep, it can! Which makes caffeine a bit of a double-edged sword. You’re drinking it to cobble together some energy to stay alert — and it could have the exact same effect on your little peanut. Uh oh.
That said, as we’ve mentioned, it affects every baby differently, and that will usually come down to individual circumstances.
For instance, the CDC reports that poor sleeping patterns have been observed in infants whose mamas consume very high amounts of caffeine (we’re talking 10 or more cups of coffee a day). Meanwhile, preterm and newborn babies can take longer to break down caffeine, so this could also have an impact on their sleep and mood.
Either way, you need to do what’s right for you and your baby. Whether that’s bringing your intake down or timing your coffee breaks so that the caffeine’s out of your system when you feed or pump, you can still enjoy caffeine with a little moderation and planning.
So, how much caffeine can you have while breastfeeding?
It depends on who you’re asking! The consensus is that anywhere between 200 and 300 milligrams of caffeine per day are fine when you’re breastfeeding. So, a few cups are a-OK.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that up to 200 mg a day (one large or two small cups of coffee) is the sweet spot.
- And according to a study shared by the breastfeeding organization La Leche League International, stretching to 300 mg a day (around two to three cups of coffee) is safe for nursing mamas.
Anything over and above that 300 mg mark, however, could result in overstimulation, wakefulness, and the jitters in your little one. So better to err on the side of caution.
How long does caffeine stay in breastmilk?
Caffeine in breast milk has a half-life of anywhere between 1.5 and 14.5 hours (the half-life is the amount of time it takes for the level of caffeine to reduce by half).
So, any trace of caffeine in your breast milk is usually gone within 24 hours, assuming you don’t top it up!
That’s why you should be mindful of that 200 - 300 mg range above, especially in the first few weeks with your new baby. Caffeine has a crazy high half-life in newborns (as much as 97.5 hours), which means you could drink a cup of coffee on Monday morning, and the caffeine from that coffee could still be in your breastfed baby’s system come Thursday evening.
Watch out for these hidden sources of caffeine
To recap: Is it ok to drink coffee while breastfeeding? You bet!
Just remember to keep it in moderation and, if you can, plan to drink it around two hours before your next feed to let it work its way through your system.
But if you insist on starting your day with a nice, warm cup of coffee or tea (and who could blame you?), you need to think about what else you’ll be putting in your body over the course of the day. This means inspecting every label and list of ingredients for hidden caffeine. Otherwise, you could go over the recommended 300 mg guidelines without even realizing it.
Beyond the usual suspects of coffee, tea, and soda, you should look out for caffeine content in energy drinks & bars, painkillers, supplements, and even chocolate (the higher the cocoa content, the higher the amount of caffeine, FYI).
And common additives like ginseng, guarana, kola nut, and taurine also contain caffeine, so even if it’s not listed outright, it could be sneaking its way into your favorite foods and drinks — and into your breast milk, too.
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