I recently wrote about the safety of caffeine for children. We got a few questions asking about the safety of caffeine while breastfeeding, so we wanted to offer this follow-up. I wasn’t a coffee junkie while I was breastfeeding, but became one later on, so I can totally understand why drinking coffee while breastfeeding is an important question for many parents.
Why is there a concern about drinking coffee while breastfeeding?
The primary concern is that caffeine, as a drug, could be transmitted to the breastfeeding infant via breastmilk. Some substances, particularly alcohol, are restricted while breastfeeding. Getting infants to sleep is a challenge under simple conditions, so having an infant jacked up on caffeine could certainly be quite the nightmare. But is this concern legitimate?
Guidance from medical institutions on caffeine intake while breastfeeding
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises breastfeeding parents to drink no more than 200 mg a day (for typical amounts of caffeine in different beverages, please see our infographic on the topic). However, during the first few days after birth or if the infant is preterm, ACOG recommends you consume even lower amounts since these babies metabolize caffeine at an even slower rate.
The CDC offers a slightly different recommendation: “low to moderate amounts (about 300 mg or less per day, which is about 2-3 cups of coffee)”. The CDC also says that high amounts of caffeine intake can lead to fussy babies that don’t want to sleep. However, by “high amounts of caffeine,” they mean 10 cups of coffee or more. I want to know who’s drinking 10 cups of coffee a day!
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics), researchers found no impact on “sleep of infants at the age of 3 months”, even among heavy coffee drinkers, which they define as greater than 300 mg/day. Unfortunately, the categorization in the paper lumps all heavy coffee drinkers together. I would have liked to see more categories above 300 mg/day.
According to this publication from 1984, the amount of caffeine that gets transmitted from mother to infant is 0.06-1.5%. However, other papers have placed this value has high as ~9%. Caffeine begins to peak in breastmilk approximately 1 hour after intake, and it’s half-life is quite variable.
According to the leading medical institutions, you can safely have 200-300mg of caffeine while breastfeeding. You should decrease your intake if your infant is preterm or newborn, since they are more sensitive to caffeine. Keep in mind, however, that coffee has a wide range of caffeine depending on the blend and how it’s prepared. There are various websites that list the average amount of caffeine in your beverage of choice. If you’re breastfeeding and you enjoy caffeinated beverages, it’s important to keep track of your consumption so you only consume safe amounts. It’s also important to remember that some babies are fussy regardless of what you eat or drink. You shouldn’t be hard on yourself if you’ve decided to continue drinking coffee while breastfeeding.