Breastfeeding and caffeine - what's OK?

Many of us enjoy a cup of coffee or two a day and would find it difficult to give up. The good news is that even breastfeeding mothers can continue to drink coffee, or tea, if it’s in moderation and not too much.

But exactly what level of caffeine is safe and what is too much? And what drinks and foods contain caffeine?

Read on to understand more about breastfeeding and caffeine intake.

8 Truths About Caffeine and Breastfeeding

  1. Caffeine does appear in breast milk at around 1% of what is ingested.  Caffeine levels peak in breast milk around one hour after a mother has consumed caffeine.
  2. The research is not yet consistent about recommended safe levels of caffeine for breastfeeding mothers.
  3. Australian authorities recommend no more than 300 mgs per day of caffeine for breastfeeding mothers.
  4. Premature and newborn babies metabolise caffeine slowly, and may have the same serum levels as their mother to caffeine.  Essentially, small babies take longer to process caffeine and are more sensitive to it.
  5. Drinking more than 450mls of coffee each day can decrease the iron concentrations in breast milk, and lead to iron deficiency anaemia in breastfed babies.
  6. In breastfeeding mothers who smoke cigarettes, the effects of caffeine are compounded.  Mothers who smoke need to be aware of the benefits of limiting their caffeine intake more than those who don’t smoke.
  7. Young babies are more sensitive to caffeine than older babies.  It can take a newborn a long time to process any caffeine they ingest via breast milk.
  8. There are lots of reasons why babies can be unsettled and wakeful. Sometimes caffeine from a mother’s breast milk contributes to a baby’s alertness.  

Caffeine Content of Drinks and Food

Espresso Coffee 145mg/ per 50 ml shot
Instant Coffee 60-80 mgs per 250 mls cup
Takeaway Coffee 51-332 mg per serving
Tea 10-50 mgs per 250 mls cup
Energy Drinks Up to 80 mgs/250 mls can
Coca Cola Up to 54 mgs per 375 mls serving
Milk Chocolate 20 mgs per 100 gram bar

How would I know if my baby is affected by my caffeine intake?

Some babies seem particularly sensitive to their mother’s intake of caffeine, and others do not appear   bothered at all. Caffeine reactions are incredibly unique and individual for every mother and baby. How a mother processes caffeine also affects the amount that is passed into her breast milk.  There is no one consistent set of behaviours for all babies who seem to be affected by caffeine.

However, unsettledness, changes in sleeping behaviour, fussiness, jitteriness and colic type symptoms are some of the more common symptoms of a baby whose mother has ingested too much caffeine. 

What is the best way to cut back on caffeine?

If you do feel your baby is being affected by your caffeine intake, it will be useful to reduce your overall intake. Don’t forget that caffeine is also found in chocolate, some medications and even weight loss supplements.   

Food Standards Australia  recommends that cola and energy drinks are labeled as being unsuitable for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

Aim to cut back slowly; stopping suddenly can lead to caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and feeling irritable.

If you experience nipple vasospasm, you may find this improves if you cut back or eliminate caffeine from your diet.

It can take up to a week or more for all traces of caffeine to be removed from breast milk.

How would I know how much caffeine I’m having?

Read the labels on food and drinks.  Work out the caffeine concentration in each individual serving and aim not to exceed 300 mgs/day.

Ways to cut back on caffeine

Consider drinking decaffeinated coffee and/or tea. Soda water or plain tap water are good alternatives to cola drinks.

Consider the size of the serving cup you are drinking from. You may need to measure out what an average cup holds and once you are clear, keep that as your ‘favourite’.

Limit your intake of chocolate as special treats.

Written by Jane Barry, Child Health Nurse and Midwife.

References

Australian Breastfeeding Association

National Center for Biotechnology Information

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