Breastfeeding is usually exhausting, especially the early days after birth, when the baby has an irregular sleep pattern and wakes up several times at night. While a cup of coffee can help a nursing mother deal with sleep deprivation, most people worry about the negative side effects that caffeine has on babies. It’s important to note at this point that while too much caffeine can be harmful to your baby, nursing mothers can take caffeine in moderation.
Most pregnant women are advised to eliminate or limit the intake of caffeine during pregnancy. This is to avoid the risk of having caffeine cross the placenta and affect the growing fetus. For breastfed babies, however, the case is a little different as caffeine isn’t likely to cause any harm to a nursing infant. When a nursing mother takes any caffeinated products, her body tends to metabolize a lot of the caffeine before it gets to the breast milk and cause any harm to the baby.
Caffeine gets to the breastmilk from the bloodstream. Any caffeinated product that you consume – coffee, cocoa, tea, or chocolate – there is a tiny bit of caffeine that goes into your bloodstream. And once it’s in the bloodstream, you can be sure that low levels of caffeine will get into the breastmilk. It is therefore recommended that nursing mothers keep their caffeine intake to nothing more than 200mg a day. 200mg of caffeine is equivalent to one or two cups of coffee depending on how you like your coffee.
Effects of Caffeine on the Baby
While 200mgs of caffeine in a day for a nursing mum is ideal, taking more than that in a day won’t necessarily harm the baby. However, studies have shown that taking more than 10 cups of coffee in a day can make a baby become fussy, jittery, restless, experience difficulty in sleeping, and irritated. If you notice this in your baby, ensure you cut down on your caffeine intake.
Given that the levels of caffeine in breast milk are also known to peak after one or two hours after taking coffee, a nursing mother can take this time to watch their baby and see if they will be affected in any way. If your baby is younger, it’ll take a longer time for him or her to have the caffeine cleared from his or her system. For instance, a newborn takes four days to clear caffeine from their system. If the mother keeps taking a lot of caffeinated drinks and foods, the caffeine amount in the baby’s body will build up.
Babies below nine months aren’t able to process caffeine quickly. This is because their kidneys and livers aren’t mature enough to quickly process it. Babies who are nine months or older can, however, eliminate caffeine from their bodies at a similar rate to an adult. Although some premature babies have been cared for using caffeine to enable them breathe, too much use of caffeine use has been known to make them irritable, jittery and restless.
While research has shown that breastfed babies whose mothers take more than the recommended amount of caffeine in a day end up with disrupted sleep, we can’t be 100 percent sure that the irregular sleeping patterns are related to the caffeine found in the milk given that babies go through various stages of waking up.
Alternatives to Caffeinated Drinks
Caffeine isn’t just contained in most drinks but even in some foods and medicines that nursing mothers eat and take. As such, it’s important to consider other alternatives that you can have instead of consuming any caffeinated drink. Decaffeinated coffee or tea is the best option. And while this may not be entirely caffeine-free, they contain less caffeine than what you find in your usual coffee and tea.
Decaf coffee or tea, on average, contains about 2 to 5mg of caffeine, which makes it safe for breastfeeding mums to take and still breastfeed as they should without necessarily worrying about the caffeine affecting their young one. Another good alternative is water that’s flavored with a lime or lemon slice, or a glass of semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.
If you love hot drinks, consider taking warmed cordials without adding any sugar to it. While herbal tea is another excellent alternative, it’s imperative that you assess the caffeine content of the tea by reading the info on the packet. For instance, green tea is known to contain caffeine and should be taken in moderation.
Should you occasionally want to take caffeinated tea or coffee, you don’t need. Instead, what you can do is to ensure you brew your tea for a shorter period. Why? Because this helps to cut down the amount of caffeine by around 20 to 40 percent. You can, therefore, opt to dip your tea bag for a minute instead of three or five minutes.
Another alternative is to switch from taking brewed coffee to taking instant coffee. Instant coffee has a lower amount of caffeine, and you can also make it a bit weaker by using a lesser amount of coffee if you aren’t keen on the taste.
As mentioned, breastfeeding in the early days can leave most nursing mothers sleep deprived. And while coffee can help keep you awake to manage the lack of sleep, it’s important that you take it in moderation and ensure that you don’t exceed 200mgs in a day. Also, remember to cut down the intake of other caffeinated food products such as chocolate or cocoa.
Some cold remedies and pain relievers also contain caffeine. It’s important that you check the leaflet to know the amount of caffeine contained in them. Most importantly, ensure you speak to your doctor before taking them and always let your physician know if you are breastfeeding. If your baby is preterm, ensure that you cut back on caffeine intake as preterm babies have been known to be a lot more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than full-term babies.