Is coffee okay while breastfeeding? How about other sources of caffeine? Many breastfeeding or nursing moms ask about coffee, so today’s post will go over the basics. I’ll go over caffeine in breastmilk, how it may affect a baby, and how it may affect milk supply.
The take-away: Many breastfed babies do just fine if their parent drinks a couple of cups of coffee daily. The best way to know for an individual baby is to observe them!
(Read on for the details. For the purposes of inclusivity and clarity, I’ll use “parent” and “mother” interchangeably here).
Personally, I’m so grateful I knew that some coffee was okay while breastfeeding. Parenting is challenging. Worrying about adjusting one’s usual diet can make it even more challenging. While caffeine/coffee during pregnancy has its own recommendations and limits, they’re different once a baby is born.
Does caffeine from coffee pass into breastmilk?
Yes: if a mother eats or drinks something with caffeine in it, some of that caffeine passes into breastmilk. It’s a small percentage. In fact, it’s lower than the mom’s caffeine blood levels. How it affects the baby depends on several things, including the baby’s age. Newborns will likely have longer-lasting effects than older babies or toddlers. Younger babies clear caffeine from their systems more slowly.
How does breastmilk containing caffeine affect a baby?
Moderate doses of caffeine affect a baby just like we’d expect. If they’ve had a lot, they may feel a little jittery or fussy. It may be hard for them to settle or sleep. Just like adults, different babies can tolerate different amounts. The only way to know for your own baby is to observe them after they’ve had breastmilk from someone who has had caffeine. Usually, within a few hours you’ll know, although it usually appears in breastmilk after about just 15 minutes. Some research shows that caffeine levels in breastmilk peak about an hour after the breastfeeding parent has had a cup of coffee.
As mentioned earlier, younger babies are more sensitive and will keep the caffeine in their systems for longer than older babies. So, someone may notice their breastfed newborn cannot tolerate the same amount of coffee as their breastfed toddler.
I must note that too much caffeine can be toxic. (Just like in adults, very high levels can be dangerous). This topic overall is really lacking in quality research, so there isn’t a clearly-defined limit. The UK recommends lactating women have less than 200mg of caffeine daily. It’s just not really clear where they got that number. That being said, most would consider maternal consumption of less than 200mg to be fine for breastfed babies. For reference, an average cup of coffee has around 100mg of caffeine.
(A 1985 study showed that breastfed babies of moms who had 500mg of caffeine daily had no significant differences in their heart rates or sleep. It was a small study, so we can’t draw overarching conclusions, but it’s worth noting). More recent research reached similar conclusions. Moderate coffee consumption by breastfeeding moms did not affect infant sleep.
Do babies ever need caffeine?
In the hospital, specifically the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), some babies take caffeine directly as a medication. It helps with specific breathing issues. The doses they get in the NICU are higher than what would typically be found in breastmilk from a mom who drinks a two cups of coffee each day.
Obviously a baby in the NICU can be very different from a baby at home, with different needs. I mention this here for perspective.
I refer to coffee here because it’s such a common source of caffeine. Of course, caffeine comes in many forms, including tea, energy drinks, and chocolate. So, a parent may not drink coffee but still consume caffeine. This means there are many indirect ways a nursing parent may get their caffeine and we have to keep those in mind as well.
Does coffee affect milk supply in a lactating parent?
Coffee and caffeine do not lower milk supply. (It may actually stimulate milk production). However, a parent’s hydration is important while breastfeeding. (This is important because too much caffeine can affect hydration).
Why does all this matter? Can a mom just skip the coffee until she’s done breastfeeding?
Of course a mother is not required to drink coffee. And, unless specifically directed otherwise by her baby’s doctor, coffee isn’t totally off limits either. The only person who needs to think about whether or not to drink coffee while breastfeeding is the breastfeeding person herself. The benefits of breastfeeding are vast. So, supporting a breastfeeding mom promotes a baby’s health too. This support can come in many forms, from simply voicing encouragement to helping clean breast pump machine parts. Maybe she needs some snacks. Or a cup of coffee.
To summarize, a mom drinking one or two cups of coffee daily probably won’t see an effect on her breastfed baby.
Again, this especially applies to older babies past the newborn stage. Enjoy a cup. Or two.
Maya Mahmood, D.O., F.A.A.P. is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.