The earliest days of new motherhood are exhausting. The nights are often sleepless and the mornings often half-awake and groggy. Back during my new motherhood days, after nine months of limiting caffeine, if I could have put an IV drip of caffeine into my arm, I would have. Except for the fact that I was breastfeeding and unsure of the rules surrounding breastfeeding and caffeine. I knew caffeine must be limited during pregnancy, but I didn’t know if the same rules applied to breastfeeding. I’d heard caffeine could affect babies’ sleep, but I didn’t know whether that was rumor or reality. Truth be told, I was too tired and too busy to go searching up the information.
The questions I had—and was too tired to look up—are common among new mothers. Scary Mommy reached out to Molly Petersen, Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) at Lansinoh and Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, a board certified ob-gyn with fifteen years experience, host of the All About Pregnancy & Birth podcast, and member of the Lansinoh Clinical Advisory Network, to understand how exactly caffeine affects your baby if you’re breastfeeding.
Babies Respond To Caffeine In Different Ways
When it comes to babies, there’s no one-size-fits all approach about anything. A swaddle that works like a miracle for one baby may not work for another. The same is true when it comes to the effect of caffeine on breastfed babies. Caffeine is absorbed into a mother’s breast milk and “[s]ome babies are more sensitive to caffeine, and it can cause fussiness and refusal to nurse,” writes Petersen.
She explains further that in the long-term, the refusal to nurse could lead to a decrease in breastfeeding and ultimately a decreased supply.
Because caffeine affects different babies in different ways, Petersen notes, “It is important to monitor how your caffeine intake affects your baby and watch for signs like increased fussiness or wakefulness.”
Caffeine Is Safe in Moderation
For the caffeine lovers (and the can’t-function-without-caffeine crowd), the good news is that caffeine doesn’t need to be nixed completely. Petersen recommends caffeine be consumed in moderation, one to two caffeinated drinks a day. “Breastfeeding moms should aim to have no more than 100-200mg of caffeine per day, as long as their baby tolerates it well,” she writes, and notes that an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine.
This is similar to the guideline for caffeine consumption in pregnancy. Rankins notes that, according to research, up to 200mg of caffeine is safe in pregnancy.
It’s important, also, to “[k]eep in mind that caffeine is also present in tea, chocolate, soda, and energy drinks,” writes Rankins. The source of the caffeine does not matter. Only the quantity.
When It Comes To Pumped Milk, It Depends On The Baby
When my firstborn was a newborn, I’d heard that if I drink coffee and then pump milk, I should only use that milk in the morning because the caffeine in that milk may keep the baby awake. Obviously I didn’t want to actively cause any more sleepless nights and was on board with labeling the pumped milk. But also, as an overwhelmed new mother of a very premature baby, nine times out of ten, I forgot to label whether I’d pumped milk in the a.m. or p.m. and just threw it into the freezer.
As it turns out this bit of information which was presented to me as undeniable fact isn’t entirely true. According to Petersen, “This is going to be an instance of try and see.” For those babies who are more sensitive to caffeine, labeling milk as milk that may have absorbed caffeine may be helpful. For example, if you love your morning latte, and your baby is sensitive to caffeine, labeling that pumped milk as morning milk and then only feeding that milk to your baby in the early part of the day is worthwhile. However, for babies who aren’t sensitive to caffeine, this step is probably not needed.
“It’s all about trying things out and seeing what works best for you and your baby,” Petersen writes.
And If You’re Feeling Judgment Or Pressure About Your Caffeine Choices…
For reasons that are hard to understand, new mothers are so often subject to the criticisms and unasked for opinions of others—whether strangers or family members. The subject of caffeine consumption can be one in which mothers feel judged. Layered on top of sleepless nights, judgment is the last thing anyone needs.
Petersen’s advice to anyone ready to judge another mother’s choice is to step back and remember that we are all doing the best we can. “Motherhood is a different experience for every mom, and we have no way of really knowing what that experience is for a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or even a family member. We all need to think about how little we like people judging our choices before we choose to judge theirs.”
For new moms who need resources to help them make choices—about caffeine or otherwise— or are just looking for support, Rankins suggests checking out The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
No two babies are the same. Just like no two mothers are the same. What’s important is to be informed and make decisions that are best for you and your little one.