what's the truth about caffeine while breastfeeding?

The truth about caffeine while breastfeeding

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Coffee in your milk? The truth about caffeine while breastfeeding

It’s 4 AM and you just finished nursing your baby. Now that her belly is full, she’s kicking and cooing and ready to play. She wants to get up, but you want to sleep. Then she starts to fuss.

Ugh! You just need rest, is that too much to ask?

Resigned to your sleepless fate, you scoop Miss Wakeful up and trudge to the kitchen for some coffee. Maybe that will help.

Yet as you sip, you recall the disapproving look of your mom, or best friend, maybe your husband, coworker, or sister. And their half-accusation/half question “Are you really supposed to be drinking coffee while you’re breastfeeding?”

It’s almost enough to ruin the joy of a morning coffee.

Let me just say, I think it’s cruel that the very time when we need caffeine the most – when there’s a newborn in the house – that’s the time we’re told not to have it. Life’s brutal sometimes, and the inner rebel in me resents this injustice.

Why? Why are we not supposed to consume caffeine while we’re nursing? Does it affect our milk supply? Does it hurt the baby? Will it make her active for a bit, then cause her crash and sleep later (please please please)?

mom's intake of caffeine while breastfeeding may affect a baby's sleep

There are people who say you can have all the caffeine you want, it’s fine. Some people say you shouldn’t touch the stuff at all. Yet others say you can have it in moderation. Who’s right?

Well, I’ll tell you…

How does caffeine affect your milk?

There’s a very common wives’ tale about caffeine reducing your milk supply. It’s just a myth. There is no documented evidence that drinking caffeine will decrease your milk supply. In fact, there was a study in 1994 that suggested it could increase milk supply (Nehlig & Debry, 1994). Although I wouldn’t drink it just for that purpose.

BUT but but but….if you consume so much caffeine that your baby becomes fussy and overactive, she might not nurse well. And if she doesn’t nurse well for a few feedings, that could very well decrease your milk supply. So it could indirectly cause your supply to diminish.

Another concern is how it affects the iron in your milk. According to the Drug and Lactation Database (LACTMED), “Coffee intake of more than 450 mL daily may decrease breastmilk iron concentrations and result in mild iron deficiency anemia in some breastfed infants.” I had to look up 450 mL to see just how much that is. It’s 15.2 ounces. So if you drink two 6 ounce cups of coffee, you’re safe there.

caffeine while breastfeeding may be necessary

LACTMED also provided one more nugget of knowledge: the caffeine content in your milk will peak 1-2 hours after you drink it. So you may want to have your espresso a few minutes before you nurse (and before it has time to get in your milk). That way you won’t be nursing when your milk’s caffeine content is at its highest.

How much caffeine actually gets into the milk?

According to the book Breastfeeding: A Guide For the Medical Profession, by Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D. and Robert M. Lawrence, M.D.,”With a given dose of caffeine that is comparable to that in a cup of coffee, the level in the milk is low, (1% of level in mother) and the level in the infant’s plasma is also low. However, caffeine does accumulate in the infant.” (page 369)

That’s not a lot. But keep in mind, that’s one cup, not necessarily one coffee cup. Your coffee cup may be petite, but my coffee cup is a HOSS. It’s big. They weren’t thinking of mine when they said “one cup.”

You have to factor in your caffeine from all sources, coffee, tea, energy drinks (please don’t go there), chocolate, soda, etc.

Also, notice they said that caffeine will accumulate in your baby. Consider that before you reach for more.

How much caffeine does a baby absorb?

According to Breastfeeding: A Guide For the Medical Profession, if you did have that one cup of coffee and 1% of your caffeine level in your milk, the amount would be detectable in your baby’s plasma, but it would be a very small amount.

Newborns three weeks old and younger are especially susceptible to caffeine. Babies over six months tend to be less susceptible than babies 2-5 months of age.

How will the caffeine affect my baby?

Part of the answer to this will depend on your baby’s age. Once again, if she’s a newborn, she’s going to have a stronger reaction to your mom-latte than she would if she was 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months. A 3-month-old will have a stronger reaction than a 12-month-old and so on…

The other part of the answer will depend on your baby’s sensitivity to caffeine, which can differ by baby. If you avoided it during your pregnancy, your baby is likely to be more sensitive than a baby whose mother enjoyed her daily java. But just like adults, some babies are just going to be more sensitive to it than others.

Signs your baby is feeling that cup o’ joe:

You may be significantly nicer after a cup of joe, it sometimes has the opposite effect for babies. Here are some tell-tale signs that your coffee or soda is affecting your baby:

  • Alert – her eyes are wide open and she’s much more alert than she usually is
  • Active – she just can’t stop moving
  • Sleepless – she’s having a hard time falling asleep, or staying asleep. Sleep may actually be impossible for a little while.
  • Fussy – maybe because the caffeine makes her feel unusual and it scares her, or maybe because she’s just so tired and can’t sleep. But if your baby is uncharacteristically fussy, it could be because of caffeine.
drinking caffeine while breastfeeding can make your baby fussy

It’s not an allergen

Caffeine isn’t an allergen, so rest assured that any reaction your baby has to caffeine is not an allergic reaction. Any symptoms she displays as a result of your (and her) intake will pass, but they may make her feel uncomfortable for a while. Which will make you uncomfortable for a while.

The people who say to have your caffeine in moderation are right. It’s perfectly fine to have a little tea or coffee while you’re breastfeeding. Just pay attention to the total amount of caffeine you’re consuming. The wisest course of action may be to only have it when you need it most, and at other times try different ways of waking up – like a brisk walk or jumping jacks. You may even have a helpful friend come to watch your baby while you catch a nap so you can feel more rested.

With all the variables (strength and amount of your caffeine, length of time it’s been in your body, baby’s age, baby’s sensitivity) the best way to know for sure what your caffeine limit needs to be is to watch your baby and take note of her body’s reaction to your favorite caffeinated beverage.

Did you notice your baby getting irritable or restless when you drank caffeine? What did you do to help her? Please tell me in the comments!

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