We are all aware that during pregnancy, there are certain things that are off limits – cigarettes and alcohol immediately spring to mind. But what about caffeine? Can you continue to drink coffee while you’re pregnant? And what about during breastfeeding? Here, we consider the best advice.
Caffeine during pregnancy
Before we look at the advice on caffeine while breastfeeding, it’s worth thinking about what the experts have to say with regards to caffeine while pregnant.
Unsurprisingly, several studies have been conducted in this area – but as yet, the results are inconclusive.
An early study by the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that moderate coffee consumption is safe but that drinking five or more cups of coffee per day was associated with a higher risk of miscarriage.
However, another more extensive study conducted in 2008 found that exceeding 200mg of caffeine per day doubled the risk of miscarriage.
A regular cup of coffee usually contains about 100-200mg of caffeine (more on this later), so this study would seem to suggest a much lower recommended daily intake.
Other research has since been put forward to refute these claims, but as most people would rather be safe than sorry, current advice is to limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy even if you don’t eliminate it entirely.
Caffeine during breastfeeding
Advice relating to coffee and caffeine consumption during pregnancy is specifically related to the elevated risk of miscarriage, so what about the effects during the breastfeeding period?
To address the central question first, is it safe to consume caffeine during breastfeeding? The answer here is a definite yes. While some of the caffeine consumed by the mother does make it into her breastmilk, it is only a tiny proportion, perhaps as little as around 1%.
Depending on the authority, the recommended daily limit varies. The American Academy of Pediatricians suggests no more than three cups is safe, whereas La Leche League says that up to five is still ok.
Keep an eye on baby
While a baby is unlikely to receive amounts dangerous amounts of caffeine through breastfeeding, there is a chance that he or she may begin to show signs of its effects, for example crankiness or trouble sleeping.
This shouldn’t occur unless you drink excessive amounts of coffee, but some babies, just like some people, may be particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. This means that in some babies, these effects may be more pronounced.
If you are consuming fairly high amounts of caffeine and you notice your baby is more irritable than normal or is not sleeping for as long as usual, you may consider cutting down your caffeine intake. If this resolves the problem, you will know that caffeine was indeed to blame.
There is a widely held belief that caffeine consumption may decrease milk supply. This is an easy question to address: despite several studies investigating this idea, none have shown it to be true. The idea that caffeine reduces milk supply is no more than a myth.
Where does the myth come from, though? It has been suggested that caffeine in the mother’s milk may reduce a baby’s appetite, and as a result, milk supply may be reduced due to reduced consumption.
How much caffeine is in drinks?
So far, we have been talking a lot about cups of coffee and amounts of caffeine, but what does this mean in real terms? If we want to know how much caffeine it is safe to consume when breastfeeding, we need to talk about this in a little bit more detail.
How much caffeine is in a cup of coffee? This would seem to be a very important question, but unfortunately, it isn’t a question with a simple and straightforward answer. Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why.
Brewing methods and types of bean
First, it depends on how the coffee is made since different brewing methods can change the amount of caffeine that reaches the cup. The amount of coffee grounds used is obviously also important.
Then there is the matter of the type of coffee bean. Even if you are no coffee expert, you may know that there are two species of coffee plant grown commercially, arabica and robusta. However, you may not be aware that robusta coffee has about twice the caffeine content of arabica beans.
This means you need to know whether your coffee is pure arabica, pure robusta or a blend before you can try to guess the caffeine content.
With all this in mind, it is still possible to give some guidelines. An 8oz cup of regular drip coffee probably contains about 100-200mg of caffeine. Espresso varies, but generally, one shot contains about 75mg of caffeine.
A cup of tea contains about half the caffeine content of coffee, so probably about 50mg.
These numbers are only supposed to give you a very rough guideline to the caffeine content of caffeinated drinks to help you measure your caffeine intake. Starbucks fans should also note that this chain serves some of the most caffeinated coffees on the high street.
Since most parents want to do everything in their power to give their babies the best possible start in life, with this information, most mothers will prefer to err on the side of caution and reduce caffeine intake during breastfeeding.
A good option is to switch to decaffeinated coffee, especially for those vital first six months. It is worth pointing out that even decaf is not caffeine-free – small amounts of caffeine remain even after the decaffeination process – but it is far less than in regular coffee.
While decaf certainly doesn’t give you the same morning buzz as a regular cup – this is what you’re trying to avoid, after all – at least the comforting familiar flavor may help your morale until you finish breastfeeding and you can start drinking the real stuff again.
For those who haven’t tried, there are some very tasty decaf options well worth investigating.
Coffee and caffeine are fine – in moderation
The good news is that after your successful pregnancy, there is no reason to stay off the coffee any longer. You had to give up so many things while you were carrying, so you don’t need to deprive yourself now.
Just remember, don’t start drinking excessive amounts. If you drink coffee in moderation, both mother and baby will be fine.
Kathy Gallo is a long-time coffee fanatic who loves learning about her favorite beverage almost as much as she loves drinking it. Her other passion in life is writing about coffee in the hope that others will be able to share her enjoyment of the magic bean.