Caffeine is a compound that is naturally found in certain plants, fruits and leaves that acts as a stimulant for our nervous system. Basically, what it does is it improves alertness and energy levels.
*Sounds pretty good to a new mom who is totally sleep deprived, a.k.a. has super low energy and is sluggish throughout the day*.
Consuming caffeine even linked with some health benefits and considered safe, however many new moms wonder about its adverse effects and safety for the baby while breastfeeding.
As a huge fan of coffee, I have to admit, this topic was especially crucial for me to get the hang of while I was breastfeeding.
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To be completely honest with you, I never stopped drinking coffee during pregnancy. All I did was reducing the amount I had during the day. Having said that, I didn’t eat or drink any other products containing caffeine (and believe me, it can perfectly hide in some goods you wouldn’t even think of, like dark chocolate, sodas even a chocolate cake!).
With this point in mind, there is another pretty crucial thing to know about caffeine. It is how sensitive you are to it! Because this is where the game starts.
Genetical predisposition is what controls your level of sensitivity to caffeine and its evacuation from the system. When you drink coffee (or any other caffeinated drinks) it metabolizes in the liver with the help of the gene-regulated enzyme called CYP1A2. Some people produce very little of this enzyme.
Caffeine Metabolism: How Sensitive Are You?
There are three types of people. Which one are you?
How Much Caffeine Can Pass Through To Your Breast Milk?
Usually, in adults, caffeine stays in the body for up to seven hours after ingestion. However, babies can be more sensitive to it and caffeine may circulate in their system for up to 130 hours, as their liver and kidneys are still developing. Therefore, even the smallest amounts of caffeine the baby gets though breast milk can build up in their body over time — especially in newborns.
The good news is that the older the baby, the faster its body learns to break down caffeine.
You may wonder by now, how much caffeine penetrates into breast milk. According to PubMed “Caffeine does not diffuse freely into breast milk and concentrations in milk are lower than in maternal serum”. This research states that only around 1% of total ingested caffeine passes through to breast milk.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention points out that it is safe for a mother to consume small amounts of caffeine during the day (up to 300 mg, which equals 2-3 cups of coffee) and it doesn’t have any adverse effects in infants.
However, as every human body is unique and one can react to something when another will not, every infant is totally different. So if you stay within the safe dose of caffeine but still see that your baby is becoming more fussy, irritable and have troubles sleeping, you may want to cut down on caffeine.
What I personally noticed is that the more sensitive you are to caffeine, the more sensitive is the baby (this is by no means the research based information, just my observations). Hence, that’s why I pointed out above how important it is to know how well and fast your body metabolizes caffeine and how sensitive you are to it – because I saw the mother-baby correlation not just in me but in many of my girlfriends.
Still, there is no particular answer to whether drinking coffee causes any adverse effects on the baby. The research data seems to be mixed (even controversial sometimes).
What Factors To Consider When Drinking Coffee While Breastfeeding?
The wisest thing would be taking into account these four main factors listed below:
- the personal sensitivity to caffeine (that we already discussed);
- the age of a baby;
- the number of other caffeinated drinks consumed by a nursing mom;
- the amount of coffee that a mother drinks during the day.
The Age of a Baby
According to the Thomas Hale’s Guide, caffeine belongs to the L2 category (safe) of products. The amount of caffeine in the baby’s blood is 0.06-1.5% of the amount of caffeine consumed by a mother.
It is also said that frequent caffeine intake can lower the level of iron in breast milk and in the worst cases may lead to anemia in a child.
Children’s sensitivity to caffeine usually decreases, as they grow older. Newborns need more time to remove caffeine from their bodies than older children. The half-life of caffeine, depending on age:
- Newborn – 65-130 hours
- 3-5 months – 14 hours
- 4-9 months – 3-7 hours
- Adults – 3-7 hours
The Number of Other Caffeinated Drinks Consumed By a Mother
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks and fortified drinks for athletes. Some over-the-counter supplements may also contain caffeine as well as foods that have coffee and chocolate as ingredients in it. Mothers who drink coffee should be careful with these products as they increase the amount of caffeine in blood and breast milk.
The Amount of Coffee That a Mother Drinks During the Day
According to the research, excessive consumption of caffeine by a mother (more than 750 ml per day) may affect a child who will show signs of caffeine overdose. Children who have received a large dose of caffeine have their eyes wide open, they are excessively active and irritable and do not sleep well.
The most common recommendation is to limit caffeine intake by breastfeeding women to 300 mg per day. There are also recommendations to limit it up to 150 mg per day (1-2 cups of brewed coffee).
If your child seems too nervous and at the same time you consume a significant amount of caffeine, you can try to reduce or stop taking caffeine for a couple of weeks and observe the effect. If you want to eliminate caffeine from your diet, then reduce it slowly, as quitting cold turkey can cause caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, nausea, energy crush, mood swings and other unpleasant symptoms.
The Takeaway Message
For a great coffee lover as I am, I’ll tell you this: the less coffee you drink while breastfeeding, the better. Some babies may be very sensitive to even the slightest amount of caffeine. In this case, you may consider cutting out your coffee completely. I know it sounds cruel and unfair, yet it is better than having a never resting and crying baby (sometimes even gassy) on your hands 24/7.
I would also advise substituting your daily cup of coffee with matcha since caffeine doesn’t hit you (and your breast milk) right away leaving with a sudden drop in an hour or so. It is more stable, it rases gradually and has a more extended effect so that your energy levels are supported for longer as well.
The biggest plus is that matcha doesn’t dehydrate you as coffee does. And the health benefits are endless! Just google it.
Having said that, I am still not a big fan of matcha. My heart is with black coffee forever. However, if we’re talking babies, the risk of sticking with coffee is not worth it. Prioritize health over caffeine.
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If coffee is your guilty pleasure, you can always choose another one. And remember, the sacrifice is temporary. Babies are more sensitive to caffeine within their first year of life. So even if you decided to breastfeed for much longer than that, it doesn’t mean that you will have to quit drinking coffee for good while breastfeeding.
Time flies, babies grow super fast. In a fling, you will find yourself back to enjoying your morning coffee cup.