Caffeine And Breastfeeding: How Much Can You Have & Effects On Baby

Can You Drink Coffee While Breastfeeding? What to Know About Caffeine And Breastmilk

October 19, 2020 Updated January 25, 2021

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Want to know more about breastfeeding? Check out our package on the best breastfeeding positions, the baby rooting reflex, how to unblock milk ducts, how to treat sore nipples,  how to increase milk supply, and more. 

Welp, it’s happened. You’ve reached that point in new motherhood where you’ve lost track of what day (or even week) it is. You can’t remember the last time you had a decent night of restful sleep. Between being up with your baby most of the night, and then taking care of them all day, you’re beyond exhausted. You long for a massive vat of coffee. Hot or iced? Who cares, as long as there’s caffeine. But what about breastfeeding? Can you even drink coffee while you’re nursing? What about other types of caffeine? And just out of curiosity/asking for a friend, how long does caffeine stay in your breastmilk?

Happily, a caffeine and breastfeeding combo isn’t as controversial as, say, alcohol and breastfeeding or pot and breastfeeding). Here’s what you need to know.

How much caffeine can you have while breastfeeding?

Fear not; you’re allowed to enjoy the reassuring jolt of energy or clarity that can only come from a cup of coffee (or other caffeinated beverage) while breastfeeding. Well, to an extent. The good news is that it is safe to drink some caffeine during the period you’re breastfeeding, according to the National Library of Medicine. The bad news is that it might not be your usual amount, or what you feel like you need to get your day started.

So, let’s talk numbers. Ideally, you’re going to want to keep your caffeine intake to 300mg or less each day. At that level, the caffeine doesn’t appear to harm your baby or throw your own sleep cycle (even more) out of whack. That’s the equivalent of two or three (normal-sized) cups of coffee. Tea can vary pretty widely when it comes to caffeine. Some varieties, like black tea (where 300mg equals roughly three or four cups of tea), have quite a bit. Others, like herbal tea, have none at all. It’s always a good idea to check the label before making any caffeinated beverage part of your morning routine.

How long does caffeine stay in breastmilk?

It usually takes about an hour for caffeine to reach its peak level in breastmilk, so it moves pretty quickly. But even then, only approximately one percent of the total amount of caffeine you consume actually ends up in your breastmilk. For example, in one study, lactating women who drank beverages containing 36 to 335 mg of caffeine had between 0.06 to 1.5 percent turn up in their breastmilk.

And yes, this amount is small. But keep in mind that babies are caffeine-lightweights and can’t process it the same way adults can. Caffeine typically stays in the body of a healthy adult for between three and seven hours. Because a baby’s liver and kidneys aren’t fully developed, caffeine can stay in their little bodies for 65 to 130 hours meaning even a little bit can make a difference.

For added context, the half-life of caffeine is: up to 97.5 hours in newborns, 14 hours in babies between three to five months old, 2.6 hours in babies six months or older, and 4.9 hours in adults.

What happens when a baby drinks caffeinated breastmilk?

What are we ultimately talking about when we bring up caffeine in breastmilk? A few things, actually. Unsurprisingly, most people’s concern is for the baby’s sleep function and quality, using the logic that if caffeine passes to a baby via breastmilk, it’ll have the same stimulating effect on your little one. As it turns out, though, research on that is actually pretty limited.

For example, one study (with 885 infant participants), found that the babies of breastfeeding mothers who drank more than 300mg of caffeine each day did wake up a little more during the night — though researchers clarified that the link between maternal caffeine intake and infants’ ability to sleep was insignificant. But, in cases where breastfeeding moms drank a lot more than 300mg of caffeine per day — as in like, 10 cups of coffee — it could make their babies fussy, jittery, and prone to sleep disturbances. 

Bottom line? You can still have your favorite cold brew… just consume in moderation. And don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider if you still aren’t sure how much to moderate your caffeine intake while breastfeeding.

So, should you “pump and dump” after having caffeine?

If you’re breastfeeding your little one, you may be wondering if it’s best just to martyr any breast milk you produce immediately after drinking caffeine. But here’s the good news (because let’s be real, pumping and dumping is a pain in the ass): As long as the caffeine you’re consuming is light to moderate, there’s no need for this precautionary measure.

What foods to avoid while breastfeeding?

Coffee is such a huge part of our lives, so some mamas may have been surprised at how much this affects the breastfeeding experience. But since we’re on the subject, there are a few foods you’ll also need to rid of your diet while your breast milk is part of your baby’s. 

Garlic

Unless you want a baby who gives your breast milk two thumbs down, it’s probably better not to eat too much garlic. It affects the taste of your milk, lending it a flavor babies are not too fond of. 

Parsley, Peppermint, and Sage

This is a good time to tone down the herbs and spices. Of course, you want your food to taste good! However, it hurts your milk supply, which isn’t great for your developing baby. So, if you want to keep your little one on a consistent and healthy breastfeeding schedule, you might want to stay away from certain herbs and spices until you’re done. 

Fish

Who doesn’t love a good slab of salmon? Unfortunately, though, some fish have high levels of mercury — and what you consume, so does the baby. S, to minimize the risk of harming your baby, lay off the seafood dishes for a bit.