Sleep deprived moms often ask me whether they can continue to enjoy their morning coffee, afternoon tea or favorite diet soda (gasp!) while breastfeeding.  While moderate caffeine intake is generally considered safe, it is transmitted via breast milk and moms should be aware of the potential impact on their children.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that is found naturally in many plants, including cocoa beans, yerba mate, guarana berries, tea leaves and of course coffee beans.  It has a long history of use by people throughout the world, both to improve alertness and for medicinal purposes.  It is in fact commonly prescribed in the NICU to treat breathing issues in premature infants.  

In healthy adults, the half-life of caffeine (the time taken for the body to eliminate one-half of the caffeine consumed) is approximately 5 to 6 hours, but this can vary widely depending on factors such as age, body weight, pregnancy status, medications taken and liver health.

High caffeine intake (>400 mg/day) can be harmful to both mom and baby.  About 1% of the amount of caffeine consumed gets transmitted to breast milk, but even these small amounts can have an effect on babies due to their low body weight.  

The European Food Safety Authority suggests that “habitual caffeine consumption at doses of 200 mg per day consumed by lactating women in the general population do not give rise to safety concerns for the breastfed infant”.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has recently updated its recommendations for breastfeeding women to less than 200 mg a day (was previously 300 mg/day) as caffeine “can make your baby restless” and “may keep them awake”. 

Canada’s guidelines recommend no more than 300 mg/day women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding. 

In the US, three to five cups of coffee/day (providing up to ≈400 mg/day caffeine) is considered safe for adults, but nursing moms who do not regularly consume coffee or other caffeinated beverages are discouraged starting.  Sodas and energy drinks are broadly discouraged due primarily to their sugar content. Pregnant and nursing moms should be cautious about mixing caffeine and alcohol.              

 The bottom line is that pregnant and breastfeeding women should try to limit their caffeine intake to less than 300 mg/day and consult with their health care providers to address any personal factors that need to be considered.

Type of Drink Serving Size Caffeine
Energy drinks 8 ounces (240 ml) 50–160 mg
Coffee, brewed 8 ounces (240 ml) 60–200 mg
Tea, brewed 8 ounces (240 ml) 20–110 mg
Tea, iced 8 ounces (240 ml) 9–50 mg
Soda 12 ounces (355 ml) 30–60 mg
Hot chocolate 8 ounces (240 ml) 3–32 mg
Decaf coffee 8 ounces (240 ml) 2–4 mg