Is It Safe? Caffeine While Breastfeeding

So many things change once you are pregnant and begin your journey into motherhood. Immediately, your entire lifestyle changes. You start adjusting your diet to the needs of your baby and his or her health becomes your top priority.

Many people are told to limit or even eliminate caffeine during pregnancy due to the risk of caffeine crossing the placenta and affecting the developing fetus. Now that your baby is here, you may be itching to get back to some of your old eating habits.

A major concern for breastfeeding moms is if they can safely consume coffee while breastfeeding and if so, where is the safe limit?

First, what is caffeine?

Caffeine is most commonly found in tea, coffee and cacao plants, and is used widely across the world in food, drinks, and even some medicines. Caffeine is in so many products that people often forget that it is in fact a powerful stimulant and a psychoactive drug.

Caffeine works by stimulating your central nervous system, which gives you a boost of energy and helps you stay alert.

Can You Drink Coffee While Breastfeeding?

Many studies suggest that moderate caffeine consumption while breastfeeding (about one cup daily), should not have any permanent adverse effects on most babies. However, going above this limit can potentially be harmful. 

For any mother who consume more cups of coffee daily, these levels of caffeine can lead to adverse effects on the baby such as increased fussiness and the jitters. Bear in mind, while these may not seem like major issues to you, for a small baby, this can be an extremely intense, uncomfortable and uncontrollable experience.

Why Can Caffeine Be Harmful to Your Baby?

When caffeine enters your bloodstream, a small amount can be passed along to your baby through breast milk.

After a cup of coffee, caffeine is rapidly absorbed into your blood and then passively diffuses across the epithelial layers of the mammary gland. Caffeine appears in milk within 15 minutes of consumption and peaks within an hour.

With moderate consumption, most babies aren’t affected by caffeine, but some babies can be more sensitive to caffeine than others and show greater irritability or may even colic.

It takes infants a longer time for their bodies to process caffeine. In adults, caffeine remains in the system for about 3-7 hours. Infants, with their organs not fully developed, can hold onto caffeine for anywhere from 65 to 130 hours. Even with low levels of caffeine present in your milk supply, if the baby is not breaking it down and processing it through the body faster than you are drinking more coffee, it can build up and start to affect the baby.

In addition, caffeine may also decrease breastmilk iron concentrations and result in mild iron deficiency anemia in some breastfed infants.

To be on the safe side, it is suggested that breastfeeding mothers are cautious of their daily caffeine intake and keep it down to just one cup a day or less. It’s also good to be aware that other drinks and many foods contain caffeine. Soda, tea, and even chocolate all contain caffeine.

If you are looking to retain these items as part of your regular diet, it may be best to cut out regular coffee entirely to keep overall breast milk content low. Many moms switch to decaf coffee during pregnancy and breastfeeding if they like to enjoy the taste of coffee but don’t need the caffeine.

How Will You Know If Your Baby Is Sensitive to Caffeine?

If you are concerned about any effects on your baby, caffeine levels peak in breast milk about 1 hour after drinking coffee. If you have recently breastfed within this time period, you can monitor your baby’s behavior for any noticeable effects.

If you see your child is jittery or behaving noticeably different, this may be a sign that they are more sensitive to caffeine than other babies, and this would probably be a good indicator that you may need to eliminate or significantly lower your caffeine intake.

Be sure you are still mindful of the caffeine content in your overall diet. Since caffeine is present in many other foods and drinks, regular coffee may not be something that you want to keep in your diet while breastfeeding and taking in caffeine from other parts of your diet.

How Does Caffeine Affect You, The Nursing Mother?

It’s completely understandable that you want to get back into the routine of having your favorite morning coffee drink, but aside from possibly affecting your baby, drinking caffeine may have negative effects on nursing women.

Caffeine is a natural diuretic. If you are breastfeeding and consuming coffee that contains caffeine, this can lead to dehydration. Ingesting large amounts of caffeine regularly can also lower the iron content in your milk.

For nursing mothers with nipple vasospasm, high caffeine consumption may also affect the let down reflex. Coffee is also a stimulant, which can make you more irritable and jittery, two things you do not need while also balancing being a new mother.

What Is a Safe Coffee Alternative?

If you are not willing to take any risk of affecting your baby through your caffeine intake from drinking coffee, you may want to consider switching over to decaffeinated coffee. Unfortunately, this won’t give you the energy boost a new mother running of fumes may be in desperate need of, but you’ll still be able to have the same taste to enjoy, only much healthier and safer for you and your baby during this time.

Many people who switched to decaffeinated coffee also experience improved sleep quality, less anxiety, and more balanced energy level. A quick caffeine boost can cause your body to produce stress hormones and is usually followed by a crash when the caffeine leaves your body. Many moms switched to decaf coffee during pregnancy and breastfeeding also continue drinking decaf coffee after as well due to these benefits.

Caffeine, while being a regular part of many people’s lives, can be a burden on you and your body. People who have been drinking regular coffee for their entire lives actually develop an addiction and a need for it. Many people are physically unable to function without the boost of caffeine. By switching to decaffeinated coffee, you’ll free yourself of the need and desire for regular coffee, breaking your habit and improving your overall health and wellbeing. 

Decaf also has all the benefits of regular coffee, without its adverse effects and physical dependence. Just like regular coffee, decaf contains beneficial antioxidants since only a small amount are lost during the decaffeination process.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Studies show that caffeine, when consumed moderately, will not have adverse effects on most babies. However, for those not wanting to take the chance of negatively impacting their baby’s health, switching to decaffeinated coffee while breastfeeding is a much healthier alternative for both mother and child.

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