For all of us, what we decide to eat and drink has a huge impact on our health. But if you’re a new mum breastfeeding your baby, the question becomes even more important.
If you’re struggling to adjust to a new routine whilst battling sleep deprivation, a cup of coffee is likely to be even more appealing than usual. But we’ve all heard that caffeine is a drug. So is it safe to enjoy your normal cup of Joe while you’re breastfeeding?
Caffeine in, caffeine out
Most of what you ingest as a breastfeeding mom will end up in your breast milk to some degree. Caffeine is no different. That’s led some commentators to tell new mothers to avoid caffeine altogether. But is that necessary?
The short answer is no. Only about one percent of the caffeine you consume will find its way into your breast milk.
It’s important to remember, though, that isn’t the same as your baby experiencing one percent of the impact. He or she is much smaller than you are, and their liver and kidneys aren’t yet fully developed.
Newborn babies are particularly sensitive to caffeine. It takes their bodies a long time to process it – for them, caffeine has a “half-life” of 80 hours. But this changes quickly. By the time babies are six months’ old, they can process caffeine in only 2 to 3 hours.
So what does this mean in practice?
Caffeine and babies
You might expect that babies would have a similar reaction to caffeine overload to adults. Indeed, that’s exactly what some moms have reported when they’ve drunk coffee whilst breastfeeding – irritable, wakeful babies.
The medical evidence, though, is inconclusive. In 2004, a study of over 4,000 children born in the city of Pelotas, Brazil, looked at the relationship between maternal caffeine consumption and children’s sleeping patterns.
As new parents won’t be surprised to hear, children waking during the night was a frequent occurrence. The study, though, found no pattern between how often the babies awoke and how much caffeine their mothers had consumed.
Interestingly, the study looked at caffeine intake both during pregnancy and whilst mothers were breastfeeding. In neither case did there seem to be any link to how often babies woke in the night.
Some people have theorized that babies whose mothers drank caffeine during pregnancy build up their tolerance whilst in the womb. So if you’re turning to coffee for the first time to cope with broken sleep after your baby is born, you may find he or she is more sensitive to its effects.
Effects of caffeine on milk production
At one time, there was a widely circulated rumor that caffeine restricted the production of breast milk. Mothers desperate for a cup of coffee will be pleased to hear there’s no evidence that this is the case. In fact, a 1994 study found that caffeine actually stimulated milk production.
One hypothesis for how the rumor started is that babies that had consumed too much caffeine were jittery and didn’t nurse well. If that were true, that could in time lead to a decreased supply of milk. The result would have been from the lack of nursing, rather than the caffeine directly.
How much caffeine is too much?
As we’ve seen, the evidence about the effect of caffeine on babies is patchy, to say the least. But erring on the side of caution is never a bad idea when it comes to the health of your child.
With that in mind, a number of authorities on health have set out guidelines on caffeine consumption for breastfeeding mothers.
The British National Health Service recommends sticking to less than 300 milligrams a day. That’s roughly two mugs of filter coffee or four mugs of tea.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association states that most mothers can consume “a few cups of coffee” each day without ill effects. It goes on to note that what constitutes too much caffeine will vary from baby to baby.
The best guide to your baby is…your baby
Every individual is different, and that’s just as true for babies as the rest of us. The best way of knowing whether your baby is affected by your caffeine consumption is to observe him or her.
In doing so, it’s helpful to know how your own body metabolizes caffeine. When you drink a cup of coffee, the caffeine won’t immediately enter your breast milk. That will take about 15 minutes, with the highest concentration of caffeine appearing about an hour after you’ve drunk it.
If you feel that your baby is irritable or restless after feeding, you can test for yourself whether your caffeine intake is to blame. Try removing caffeine from your diet and observe the results. Remember that chocolate, energy drinks and cola, as well as tea and coffee, contain caffeine.
Note too that your baby can take five to six days to metabolize caffeine. That means you’re going to have to wait about a week to ensure it’s gone from his or her bloodstream.
That’s no mean feat when you’re sleep-deprived! But it will be worth it if you find your baby sleeps better when you forego your coffee. And if it’s the coffee flavor that you love more than the stimulating effect, switch to decaf and continue to enjoy it.
We hope this has reassured you that if you’re breastfeeding your baby, there’s no need to give up coffee altogether. Two or three cups a day should be fine.
But you know your baby better than anyone else. If you’re worried that he or she is sensitive to caffeine, cut it from your diet for a week. If you find there’s no difference to sleeping patterns, enjoy your coffee with a clear conscience!
And if you do find your baby sleeps better when you cut out caffeine, remember your sacrifice doesn’t have to last forever. Try again when they’re a few months older. You may find the caffeine no longer has any effect.
If you have any questions, please comment and let us know.
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