Can you drink coffee while breastfeeding? [Deep Dive]

can you drink coffee while breastfeeding

Mothers with newborn babies and juggling with their work-life probably have struggle with this question. Can you drink coffee while breastfeeding? Keep reading to find out more…

Coffee and Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the act of feeding milk to a newborn through the mother’s breast. Breastfeeding can commence immediately after birth and continue as much and as often as baby wants. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mothers to exclusively breastfeed their infants for at least the first 6 months of life for optimal health benefits.

Although there are ample studies supporting the health benefits of breastfeeding, for both mother and child, opinions regarding the duration of breastfeeding are divided. According to a systematic review which observed optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding, the findings suggest that exclusive breastfeeding of infants with breast milk only and no other solids or liquids for the first six months has important health benefits. Interestingly these benefits are not seen for infants who nursed under that time. Some of these benefits include;

  • Lower risk of gastrointestinal infection for baby
  • More rapid weight loss for mother
  • Protection against allergies
  • Reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Reduced risk of ear infection
  • Less cramps, since breast milk is easily digested by baby’s body

The benefits of breastfeeding are not exclusive to baby.

It has been shown that mothers who breastfeed benefit from:

  • Lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life
  • Easier time losing pregnancy weight. This is because producing milk burns around 500 calories per day, which aids in losing unwanted weight without much effort
  • Having the uterus shrink back to its original size through the release of oxytocin which is released during breastfeeding
  • Having the body heal relatively quicker, post-delivery.

While breastfeeding provides many more benefits to both mother and child, it is not for everyone. To some women, breastfeeding could be seen as a setback, while for others the choice not to breastfeed is due to returning earlier to work. For the purpose of this article, I will not elaborate any further on this.

Getting back to our topic of discussion regarding whether or not drinking coffee while breastfeeding, let us look at what the evidence suggests.

What Does Science Say?

Numerous studies have showed the health benefits of breast milk for the infant. Human milk has been said to contain anti-infective, biological and nutritional properties. It truly is a magical and complex drink.

Breast Milk And The Brain

Ever heard the saying breast is best’? Well, it refers to breast milk and how this seemingly simple drink has such profound effects, both short and long term, on the developing baby. Furthermore, public health initiatives to encourage and promote breastfeeding are rooted in robust scientific evidence.

A study that looked at breastfeeding and cognitive ability, reported a positive relationship between children who were breastfed for the first six months or more and IQ levels. Although, the exact mechanism by which human milk affects brain development has not yet been elucidated, it is reported that breast milk contains long chain fatty acids which play a role in brain development.

How Drugs Pass Through Breast Milk?

In case you forgot, caffeine is considered a drug and while it is harmless, and has numerous health benefits, caffeine’s safety while breastfeeding is debated. Caffeine does appear in breast milk shortly upon ingestion. The pathway by which caffeine enters milk is called passive diffusion. Passive diffusion is the transfer of a substance from one side of a biological membrane to the other through the lipid bilayer. This is the most common mechanism of drug transport. To keep things simple, I will not delve any deeper into the biochemical process.

Since evidence on recommendations on caffeine intake during breastfeeding are insufficient, it is therefore difficult to find good evidence based recommendations on safe maternal caffeine consumption.

What Does Research Say about Coffee And BreastFeeding?

One study observed that jitteriness was reported by a mother of a six month old who drank 4-5 cups of coffee a day. Moreover, the infant showed trembling and increased muscle tone. These symptoms however, subsided once the mother stopped caffeine consumption. It must be noted that, the mother also claimed drinking other caffeine containing beverages such as cola and tea, making it difficult to determine what caused the symptoms.

In addition, a breastfeeding mother of a 24 day old infant who claimed she drank 0.5 litres of coffee, reported restlessness and irritability in her new born. An interesting study looked at sleeping patterns in infants, and reported that mothers who drank more than 300 mg of coffee per day claimed more nighttime waking in their infants, compared to those who drank less than 300 mg/day. Before drawing any conclusion, we should remember that night wakings are common in infants regardless of maternal caffeine intake, making the results of this study somewhat insignificant.

A breastfeeding mother is confronted with so many challenges. Every decision she makes, whether to breastfeed or bottle feed, drink or abstain from coffee, is faced with scrutiny. What is she to do? It seems that most of the research data that is out there, at first glance only instills fear, especially in a new mother who is only trying to do her best. Being a new mother is hard enough, and all the dos and don’ts only make breastfeeding more exhausting. But for the most part, drinking coffee is deemed safe while breastfeeding.

Having said that, keep in mind that moderation is key. About 1% of the total amount of caffeine consumed ends up in breast milk. Bear in mind that while this amount seems negligible, infants are not able to digest caffeine as quickly as us. Once caffeine enters the body, it is absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream, where it is broken down by the liver. In infants, it takes 65-130 hours to process the caffeine since their liver and kidneys are not fully developed. Therefore, even a small amount of caffeine that passes through milk can build up in infants over time.

How Much Caffeine While Breastfeeding Is Safe?

The good news is that experts have given the green light on drinking coffee while breastfeeding-provided the guidelines are respected. The recommended safe amount of caffeine for the infant is 300 mg per day, which is the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee.

Now, if you’re wondering what will happen if you drink more than the recommendations? It’s difficult to know for sure, since research is still limited. Although, studies have shown that babies of mothers who drink more than 300 mg of caffeine per day do experience trouble sleeping but the association is weak.

Lastly, if you’re worried that caffeine might lower your breast milk production, rest assured that if consumed moderately, caffeine might actually stimulate milk production.

To Wrap Up This Discussion On Caffeine When Breastfeeding…

The bottom line is that nursing mothers should be well informed on proper nutrition as well as guidelines pertaining to coffee consumption during breastfeeding. All in all, your baby will likely be unaffected by your daily pick me up, so go ahead and enjoy.

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