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Caffeine and Breastfeeding

Please note this information is not medical advice, and for advice on your specific needs you should always consult your medical practitioner.

If you are a breastfeeding mother, you may have a craving for a cup of coffee—or a few—to survive the sleepless nights. Caffeine in coffee stimulates your central nervous system to keep you more awake and make you more alert. But is coffee and caffeine consumption safe for breastfeeding mothers? How will the caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate and other cola beverages affect the breastfed baby? Not many studies exist on the effects of caffeine consumption on breastfeeding and the results are sometimes contradictory. 

Caffeine in breast milk

Caffeine is completely absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestines within one hour of consumption [1]. Caffeine is soluble in fat and water so it readily passes into the breastmilk [1]. Around 1% of caffeine consumed by breastfeeding mothers gets transferred into breast milk [2]. The caffeine concentration in breast milk reaches a maximum level after about one hour of consumption [2]. Half-life of caffeine in breast milk was reported to be within 4-7 hours [3].

Caffeine in breast-fed infants

Unlike adults, infants don’t have fully developed enzyme systems to metabolise caffeine [4]. Therefore, it usually takes them longer to clear caffeine out of their bodies. The half-life of caffeine in newborn babies is 40-130 hours [4]. It drops to 2-3 hours when they get 5-6 months old [4]. As caffeine can linger for longer times in their systems, newborns may get affected by the neuro-stimulating effects of caffeine.

Some studies found that the time it takes to eliminate caffeine from the bodies of breastfed infants is much longer than that of the formula-fed infants [4], [5]. They suggest that some components in breast milk delay the caffeine clearance in these infants [4], [5].

Is caffeine consumption safe during breastfeeding?

General consensus is that breastfeeding mothers can safely consume moderate amounts of caffeine. However, it is believed that consuming larger amounts of caffeine while breastfeeding can cause behavioral problems in the babies such as fussiness and disturbed sleep patterns [1] [6]. Some studies also suggest that caffeine can affect the production of breast milk [1].

Caffeine may also interfere with the sleep of the nursing mother, making them unable to catch up on precious sleep.

How much is too much while breastfeeding?

Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends that breastfeeding mothers consume less than 200mg of caffeine per day without affecting their infants [2]. This is the amount of caffeine available in one cup of strong espresso coffee or 3 cups of instant coffee [7]. Studies report problems such as fussiness, jitteriness and poor sleep habits in breastfed infants whose mothers consume more than 10 cups of coffee (more than 1g of caffeine) per day [1].

Consuming more than 450ml of coffee can decrease the iron levels in breastmilk, thus resulting in iron-deficiency anemia in some children [1], [3].

While the general limit is 200mg of caffeine per day, it can vary depending on the individual. The best way to know if your caffeine consumption is affecting your baby is to observe your caffeine intake habits and watch your baby for any signs of caffeine sensitivity.

How to limit your caffeine consumption

Keep in mind that coffee is not the only culprit. Tea, chocolate, and cola drinks can contain significant amounts of caffeine. They can add up and increase your caffeine intake if you do not watch their consumption.

If you are a coffee lover and rely on a cup of coffee to keep you sane, you can try switching your regular coffee to a decaffeinated alternative. Decaf coffees bring the same coffee goodness without the negative effects of caffeine.

References

[1] J. L. Temple, C. Bernard, S. E. Lipshultz, J. D. Czachor, J. A. Westphal, and M. A. Mestre, “The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review,” Front. Psychiatry, vol. 8, no. May, pp. 1–19, 2017, doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00080.

[2] “Breastfeeding and maternal caffeine consumption | Australian Breastfeeding Association.” https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastfeeding-and-maternal-caffeine-consumption (accessed Apr. 04, 2021).

[3] Caffeine. National Library of Medicine (US), 2006.

[4] A. Nehlig and G. Debry, “Consequences on the newborn of chronic maternal consumption of coffee during gestation and lactation: A review,” J. Am. Coll. Nutr., vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 6–21, 1994, doi: 10.1080/07315724.1994.10718366.

[5] J.-C. Le Guennec and B. Billon, “Delay in Caffeine Elimination in Breast-Fed Infants,” Pediatrics, vol. 79, no. 2, 1987.

[6] “Breastfeeding and diet - NHS.” https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding-and-lifestyle/diet/ (accessed Apr. 17, 2021).

[7] “Caffeine and Pregnancy.” https://www.seslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/migration/Mothersafe/documents/Caffeinenov27.pdf (accessed Apr. 18, 2021).