Warning for breastfeeding moms: Watch your caffeine consumption

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breastfed infants could get too much caffeine from breastmilk.
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Mothers who are breastfeeding and drinking caffeine may put their babies – and themselves – at risk for irritability and wakefulness.
n a new interview, published in the "Journal of Caffeine Research", expert Ruth Lawrence, MD warns that women who are breastfeeding should take care to avoid excesses in caffeine that could add up to a lot of stimulation for babies.

Dr. Lawrence, who is Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal Breastfeeding Medicine, answers questions about caffeine safety while breastfeeding that many women may not be clear about.

According to Dr. Lawrence, if a mother consumes too much caffeine, especially during the first two weeks of breastfeeding, it can accumulate, leading to symptoms. Babies don’t metabolize caffeine and a small amount is passed through the breast milk.

In order to understand how much caffeine is too much, Dr. Lawrence says a mother may need to assess whether her baby is restless, awake or irritable.

Guidance given to women by clinicians is that 3 cups of coffee a day, or 300mg of caffeine is safe during breastfeeding, but some individuals are more sensitive than others, warns Lawrence, meaning you may have to make adjustments.

Women also need to be aware of how much caffeine are really taking in throughout the day. Sources include chocolate, tea, coffee, sports drinks, soft drinks and some over-the-counter medications.

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The interview touches on important issues about caffeine and breastfeeding that haven’t been addressed in research.

She says, “Unfortunately a lot of things about breastfeeding are based on opinion, and I do not know that the “safe” amount of caffeine for daily use has been carefully measured. I know of case reports.”

Lawrence provides the following scenario: “We had a case here in which a child was brought in, thought to be having seizures, and was headed for the million-dollar workup, the EEG, the MRI, the works. And in the emergency room we drew a caffeine level. It was off the charts! And we spared that child an admission. Taking a history from the mother, she said, “Oh yeah, I drink coffee all the time. I have a cup ready for me all day long. Is that a problem?”

In her own practice, Dr. Lawrence finds women start drinking herbal teas while breastfeeding, with the notion that natural is better. However, not all herbal teas are caffeine free, and drinking even herbal teas might add up, leading to an irritable, colicky baby.

There is much that isn’t known about safety of caffeine during breastfeeding, though it's generally considered safe up to 300 mg per day. The bottom line is women should limit their consumption, remain aware of where what they consume that might contain caffeine and if baby is irritable or colicky, try cutting back. Lawrence says it’s possible for breastfeeding women to consume more caffeine than might be safe for their baby.

Citation:
Journal of Caffeine Research. December 2011, 1(4): 192-194. doi:10.1089/jcr.2011.1212

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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