Caffeine is a compound found in certain plants that acts as a stimulant for your central nervous system. It can improve alertness and energy levels.
Though caffeine is considered safe and may even have health benefits, many mothers wonder about its safety while breastfeeding.
While coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks may provide a boost of energy for sleep-deprived moms, drinking too many of these beverages may have negative implications for both mothers and their babies.
Here’s what you need to know about caffeine while breastfeeding.
Does caffeine pass through to your breast milk?
Approximately 1% of the total amount of caffeine you consume passes through to your breast milk.
One study in 15 lactating women found that those who drank beverages containing 36–335 mg of caffeine showed 0.06–1.5% of the maternal dose in their breast milk.
While this amount may seem small, infants cannot process caffeine as quickly as adults.
When you ingest caffeine, it’s absorbed from your gut into your bloodstream. The liver then processes it and breaks it down into compounds that affect different organs and bodily functions.
In a healthy adult, caffeine stays in the body for three to seven hours. However, infants can hold onto it for 65–130 hours, as their liver and kidneys are not fully developed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), preterm and newborn infants break down caffeine at a slower pace compared to older babies.
Therefore, even the small amounts that pass through to breast milk can build up in your baby’s body over time — especially in newborns.
Summary: Research suggests that approximately 1% of the caffeine a mother ingests is transferred to her breast milk. However, it can build up in your infant’s body over time.
How much caffeine is safe while breastfeeding?
Though babies can’t process caffeine as quickly as adults, breastfeeding mothers can still consume moderate amounts.
You can safely have up to 300 mg of caffeine per day — or the equivalent of two to three cups (470–710 ml) of coffee. Based on current research, consuming caffeine within this limit while breastfeeding does not cause harm to infants.
It’s thought that babies of mothers who consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day may experience difficulty sleeping. Yet, research is limited.
One study in 885 infants found an association between maternal caffeine consumption greater than 300 mg a day and an increased prevalence of infant nighttime waking — but the link was insignificant.
When breastfeeding mothers consume significantly more than 300 mg of caffeine per day — such as more than 10 cups of coffee — infants may experience fussiness and jitteriness in addition to sleep disturbances.
Moreover, excessive caffeine intake can have negative effects on mothers themselves, such as heightened anxiety, jitters, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and insomnia.
Finally, mothers may be concerned that caffeine decreases breast milk production. However, some research suggests that moderate consumption may increase breast milk supply.
Summary: Consuming up to 300 mg of caffeine per day while breastfeeding appears to be safe for mothers and infants. Excess intake may lead to infant sleeping issues and restlessness, anxiety, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat in moms.
Caffeine content of common drinks
Caffeinated beverages include coffee, tea, energy drinks, and sodas. The amount of caffeine in these drinks varies widely.
The following list indicates the caffeine content of common drinks:
- Energy drinks: 8 ounces (240 ml) contains 50-160 mg caffeine
- Coffee, brewed: 8 ounces (240 ml) contains 60-200 mg caffeine
- Tea, brewed: 8 ounces (240 ml) contains 20-110 mg caffeine
- Tea, iced: 8 ounces (240 ml) contains 9-50 mg caffeine
- Soda: 12 ounces (355 ml) contains 30-60 mg caffeine
- Hot chocolate: 8 ounces (240 ml) contains 3-32 mg caffeine
- Decaf coffee: 8 ounces (240 ml) contains 2-4 mg caffeine
Keep in mind that this chart provides the approximate amount of caffeine in these beverages. Some drinks — especially coffees and teas — can have more or less depending on how they’re prepared.
Suggested read: 10 foods and drinks with caffeine
Other sources of caffeine include chocolate, candy, some medications, supplements, and drinks or foods that claim to boost energy.
If you consume multiple caffeinated beverages or products per day, you may be ingesting more caffeine than the recommendation for breastfeeding women.
Summary: The amount of caffeine in common beverages varies widely. Coffee, tea, sodas, hot chocolate, and energy drinks all contain caffeine.
Though caffeine is consumed by people all over the world and can provide a boost of energy for sleep-deprived mothers, you may not want to go overboard if you’re breastfeeding.
It’s recommended to limit your caffeine intake while breastfeeding, as small amounts can pass into your breast milk, building up in your baby over time.
Still, up to 300 mg — about 2–3 cups (470–710 ml) of coffee or 3–4 cups (710–946 ml) of tea — per day is generally considered safe.