Shot of pretty young mother with her baby in sling drinking coffee while working with laptop at home.

How does caffeine affect breastfeeding?

Worried about breastfeeding while enjoying the sweet, sweet energy of caffeine?

Let’s face it, if you’re a new mom, you haven’t been getting much sleep lately. In fact, a 2019 survey conducted by Sleep Junkie found that only one in ten parents gets the recommended 7+ hours of head-to-pillow time.

We have questions.

First, who is this one parent sleeping through the night, and what kind of pixie dust are they using on their baby? Second, can the other nine of us give in to the siren call of coffee first thing in the morning, or are we doing damage to our breastfeeding babies if we just say no to that sweet, sweet caffeine?

Relax, a little caffeine isn’t likely to harm your newborn.

Like most things, caffeine in moderation is relatively harmless, even if you’re nursing. According to board-certified lactation consultant Nancy Mohrbacher’s book Breastfeeding Answers, nursing newborns only consume about 1.5% of the maternal dose of caffeine when breastfeeding. The National Library of Medicine Drugs and Lactation Database finds that having 2─3 cups (about 300─500 mg) of coffee per day to keep your eyes open and your brain chugging along despite sleep deprivation is A-okay. The same applies to other sources of caffeine, though it’s important to note that sodas and energy drinks, for instance, have other problematic chemicals to consider like sugars and taurine.

But don’t overdo your caffeine consumption.

Some research indicates that more than 450 mL of coffee per day can lead to a decrease in breastmilk iron concentrations. This can result in mild iron deficiency anemia in some breastfed infants. Further, fussiness, jitteriness, and poor sleep patterns have been reported in infants of mothers who drink 10 or more cups of coffee daily. (For that matter, the mothers were probably feeling pretty jittery, too.)

When should nursing mothers avoid caffeine?

Some babies are more likely than others to respond negatively to caffeine. For example, breastfed infants three weeks and older showed no sign of stimulation even after their mothers had five cups of coffee. However, preterm and younger newborn infants metabolize caffeine more slowly. That means they may be more vulnerable to the side effects of caffeine like irritability and sleeplessness. Likewise, babies with other health issues may also be more vulnerable to caffeine, so consult with your physician before you start brewing that pot of black gold.

In the end, you’re most familiar with your baby’s normal temperament. If you see signs of unusual fussiness or wakefulness after you’ve had a few cups of coffee or soda, consider going caffeine-free for a couple of weeks to see if baby settles back down.

Consider pumping when your breastmilk is caffeine free to be on the safe side.

If you still don’t feel good about drinking caffeine while breastfeeding, you could always use your trusty breast pump to express milk when you’re caffeine-free. Caffeine levels peak in breastmilk one to two hours after consumption, so plan your pumping schedule accordingly.

You’ll sleep again.

Whether to coffee or not to coffee is ultimately your decision, mama. But one way or another, you will get a good night’s sleep again some day, and the coffee pot will be there waiting whenever you’re ready for it.