Booby trap: Caffeine and breastfeeding

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Cup of black coffee
Cup of black coffee
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Nursing infants don’t get much say when it comes to choosing what’s on the menu. If you’re breastfeeding, whatever you’re selecting, so is your baby. When it comes to selecting caffeine, babies are sensitive, so mothers may need to cut down to make sure it doesn’t cause any damage to their baby’s health. After all, caffeine is a drug, and if it can jack you up before a big day at work, imagine how strong it is for a tiny little person.

Psychoactive sensation

It’s well established that the drug caffeine is a popular sensation – but it’s also a psychoactive one. This means it works by stimulating the nervous system, which is why it’s so great at relieving fatigue. Unfortunately, new mums are probably the most tired of us all, and if mums are breastfeeding, too much coffee or energy drinks won’t be worth it in the long run.

How much is too much?

Breastfeeding mums can still have the occasional cup of coffee, but should limit the amount of caffeine they consume to no more than 300 mg per day. This equates to 2–3 cups of filtered coffee per day, and should be even less if you’re smoking, which has been shown to increase the health risks associated with caffeine.

The Mum-to-bub caffeine express

Caffeine is a smart drug; it can work its way into breast milk and right into your baby’s mouth within 15 minutes of a cuppa. The concentration of caffeine in breastmilk actually peaks about an hour after you have consumed it.

The levels of caffeine in your breastmilk gradually lower in the next 14 hours. But even though the levels are lower, they will still be large enough to affect your baby. Tough gig, huh?

Baby boom: Caffeine in an infant’s body

Very young infants have ‘immature’ metabolic systems. This is the newborn equivalent of an adolescent not cleaning their room, except the baby’s room is their liver. This means they can’t process and expel drugs from their body – they certainly haven’t had as much practice as us oldies, either – so it takes about 8 days to metabolise most of the caffeine passed on in breastmilk from 6–8 cups of coffee.

If you’re thinking that’s a long time for caffeine to be knocking ’round in your baby … it is.

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Luckily, by the time a baby is 6 months old, the same amount of caffeine can be cleared in about two and a half hours. The younger the baby, the longer it takes to metabolise.


Whatever their age, if there is more caffeine in a baby’s system than they can metabolise, the caffeine will start building up in their system and stimulate their nervous system, just as it would with any adult.

The effects of this for your baby will be agitation, being jittery or unsettled, and sleeping difficulties. Mothers know that when it comes to sleeping, babies are tough customers as it is, so cutting out the caffeine is one way of limiting the long nights.

Dental cavities and intestinal problems may be more common in infants of breastfeeding mums who are consuming too much caffeine too, so give your baby a break. No one likes being constipated!

What about me?

All this might sound like a bit of a bummer for new mums, especially when all you want is a hot cup of coffee and a big block of chocolate. But you’re also doing yourself a favour by cutting down on the caffeine.

Firstly, caffeine consumption may inhibit the production of breastmilk – as if you didn’t have enough worries! This means you may not produce enough to feed your baby properly, so you both suffer.

High caffeine intake also affects the quality of your breastmilk and can reduce the iron content by a third. You may also experience uncomfortable breast inflammation and difficulty breastfeeding.

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Say no to drugs

As you can see, caffeine might be common, but it’s still a very strong drug that can affect both you and your baby. By cutting down to just 2 or 3 cups a day, you can keep your milk running like a tap and keep baby sleeping like a … well, baby.

If you have any problems, then just book in with your GP to talk about techniques for getting off the black stuff.

More information

Caffeine  and breastfeeding For more information, see Caffeine Consumption While Breastfeeding.
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Date Created: November 30, 2011 Date Modified: April 28, 2013