Are you concerned your caffeine consumption may affect your breastfeeding baby?
Many new mothers are curious about this topic. After all, who needs an extra energy boost more than a new mother who’s been up all night soothing a crying baby?
Can your favorite caffeinated beverage actually harm you or your baby while you’re breastfeeding? Let’s find out.
- Breastfeeding moms can consume caffeine, but should limit intake to around 300 mg per day (about 3 cups of coffee).
- Excessive caffeine consumption may cause fussiness, trouble sleeping, and decreased iron levels in breast milk.
- Tea is the safest source of caffeine for breastfeeding moms, while energy drinks are not recommended.
- To maintain energy without relying on caffeine, try getting rest, eating fruits, spending time in sunlight, and exercising regularly.
Can Breastfeeding Moms Drink Caffeine?
The simple answer is yes.
However, you may want to hold off on ordering that extra-large coffee because you do have to be careful about how much caffeine you consume. Approximately 1% of the caffeine in your bloodstream will be transferred to your baby during breastfeeding (1).
Your baby’s reaction to caffeine will depend on several factors, including:
- Your baby’s age.
- Your baby’s weight.
- How much breast milk your baby consumes.
- Your baby’s overall health.
- Your caffeinated beverage of choice.
The only way to know for sure if caffeine consumption will negatively affect your baby is to monitor how they react when you consume any form of it.
The Risks of Caffeine While Breastfeeding
If you choose to consume caffeine while breastfeeding, you may notice some side effects in your baby.
If they’re affected by your caffeine consumption, they’ll have a reaction similar to adults when they consume caffeine.
Be on the lookout for the following (2):
- Trouble sleeping.
- Unusual alertness and hyperactivity.
- Fussiness, especially after breastfeeding.
- Extreme reactions to minimal stimulation.
Constant caffeine consumption may also cause your breast milk to lose some of its nourishing properties. Studies have found a possible correlation between drinking caffeinated beverages and decreased iron levels in breast milk.
Iron is already a minor nutrient in breast milk, though it’s readily absorbed and perfectly tailored to the breastfed baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests iron supplementation for babies after 4 months of age and until your baby begins eating iron-rich solid foods. (3).
Further decreasing the iron levels in your breast milk by consuming excess caffeine may leave your baby at risk for an iron deficiency or anemia.
Are Some Caffeine Sources Safer?
Caffeine is everywhere. It’s in our coffee, our decaf coffee, our sodas, our chocolate, our energy drinks — it’s even in chewing gum and mints.
Let’s look at some common caffeine sources and whether they’re safe for you and your baby.
For many mothers, a cup of coffee in the morning is a lifesaver. But how much coffee can a breastfeeding mother drink?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests drinking no more than 300 milligrams of coffee a day if you’re breastfeeding an infant. This equates to approximately three cups of regularly brewed coffee.
Are you worried about your coffee consumption? Consider looking into this line of coffee blends, formulated especially for moms. It has a lower acidity and caffeine content than regular coffee.
While soda contains less caffeine than coffee, with approximately 50 milligrams of caffeine per 12 ounces (that’s about a can), you still want to limit yourself to two or three sodas per day.
Soda often has other potentially harmful ingredients, including sugar. While sugar does not impact breast milk, it can cause energy crashes — which kind of defeats the purpose!
Of all caffeinated beverages, tea has the lowest levels of caffeine and can be consumed regularly by breastfeeding moms without major risks.
There are even specially-formulated lactation teas for breastfeeding moms that support healthy breast milk production and lactation:
Many tea brands also offer caffeine-free blends — this means you can have your warm morning cuppa without worry!
4. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks are not recommended for women who breastfeed. They often have higher levels of caffeine than coffee and more concentrated formulas with additional herbs or additives that could be dangerous. If you’re taking vitamins, these energy drinks could even cause vitamin toxicity (4).
When Should I Consume Caffeinated Drinks?
One way to ensure your baby is exposed to minimal amounts of caffeine is to avoid consuming any caffeine an hour before breastfeeding.
Studies have found caffeine levels in breast milk peak approximately 60 minutes after consumption. So, if you would like to minimize the risk of passing caffeine to your baby, schedule your feedings accordingly.
Try feeding your baby first thing in the morning before having a coffee. It can be a way to foster a sweet morning routine for both of you!
Natural Sources of Energy for Moms
Many mothers drink caffeine to try to regain some much-needed energy. It’s no wonder! Research shows many mothers still face potentially dangerous sleep deprivation even four months postpartum (5).
What can you do to keep your baby caffeine-free while maintaining energy?
1. Get Some Rest
The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep a night for adults. As a breastfeeding mom, this may be difficult for you to achieve. (Trust us, we’ve been there — we’re drinking coffee as we write this!)
Outside of doing all you can to get some sleep, take the opportunity to rest throughout the day. Instead of doing chores while your baby naps, try to find a dark place and close your eyes.
Avoid looking at clocks or worrying over how much time you have to rest. This can make you more stressed and keep you awake. Try catching up on sleep by going to bed a little earlier each night, as well as sleeping in and napping on weekends.
2. Get Some Fruit
Stock up on fruits for a natural energy boost the next time you go grocery shopping!
Remember your ABC’s:
- Apples: They have special antioxidants that break down the carbohydrates in your system more slowly than other carbs like bread or pasta. This means eating an apple will give you sustained energy over a longer period. Add a tablespoon of nut butter for a delicious protein boost!
- Bananas: They contain natural sugars and nutrients such as vitamin B6 and potassium. In one scientific study, cyclists found that eating a banana was just as efficient as a carbohydrate drink for improving energy and endurance (6).
- Citrus fruits: They are full of vitamin C. Your body uses vitamin C to create the amino acid L-carnitine, which helps turn fat into energy.
3. Get Some Light
Did you know that sunlight is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D? This is excellent news because vitamin D has been shown to improve the symptoms of fatigue and muscle weakness.
You can get your dose just by spending a few minutes outside. After 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine, don’t forget to apply sunscreen.
4. Get Some Exercise
This sounds counterintuitive. Exercising is going to make you tired, right? But lack of physical activity is often the cause of fatigue. Exercising every day can not only improve your energy levels, but it can also boost your mood and help you sleep better when you get a chance. Put your baby in a stroller or front-pack carrier and take a walk around your neighborhood.
Finding a “mommy and me” exercise class is a great way to meet other moms in the same boat. You can even do a few stretches while your baby is chilling on a blanket next to you to get a boost of energy.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC