In my sleep-deprived new-mom fog, caffeine was the thing that kept me from falling asleep into my bottles of nipple cream and pumping parts. I suppose my giant Mommin’ Aint Easy mug counted as a little more than two cups of coffee, and every time I drank from it, I would get nervous about all the horrible things I was doing to my baby. Would she get so hopped up on java that she would stop sleeping? Would I irritate her underdeveloped nervous system? Why did coffee taste so, so good?
According to the Centers For Disease Control, caffeine doesn’t seem to affect babies when it’s limited to about 300 mg a day or 2-3 cups of coffee. KellyMom, a community that provides evidence-based information on breastfeeding, says most babies should be fine with moderate amounts of caffeine, but what do the real experts say? And by that, I mean real moms. The ones in the thick of parenthood who stay up all night and just want some freaking caffeine to make it through the day. We talked to nine moms about what they had to say about their own experiences with caffeine and breastfeeding.
“I drank 36 ounces of coffee with cream and sugar and 48 ounces of Pepsi a day — I’m horrible! But none of my four kids ever had any reaction to the caffeine.” —Amber Provance
“My daughter is three and I’m still nursing. I have about three cups a day and I live in Spain so we’re talking strong coffee. I’ve never noticed any difference. Spanish health care is generally very good and child-welfare centered, but drinking coffee is part of life here.” —Laura Stephens
“My son would get really fussy, crying a lot and seeming to have more gas if I had coffee just prior to nursing him during the first three months. I first noticed it after I drank a big cup of afternoon coffee and it seemed to affect his sleep and made him really cranky. I felt terrible and decided to schedule my coffee after I nursed him.” —Lela Moore
“I pretty much drank coffee every day, an average of two to three cups and sometimes four — I’m not going to lie. But I didn’t notice a change with my third and her siblings whom I drank less with.” —Jessie Carpenter
“I breastfed my daughter for just under three years. I drank decaf because I worried the caffeine would keep her awake as she seemed sensitive to what I ate. Once we worked out she was allergic to dairy, I switched to soy and full caffeine coffee and she never seemed to react to it.” —Corrine Porter
“I nursed my daughter until she was 23 months, drinking two to three cups of black tea as I had always done. I didn’t see any effects in her and didn’t expect to since I didn’t drink strong coffee. My friends said that their children developed gas if they drank too much coffee while nursing.” —Kaumudi Marathe
“My youngest was born full-term, but when she was three days old she stopped breathing and turned blue for a few minutes. She was admitted and in total, she stopped breathing nine times. When they sent us home, she was on prescription caffeine to keep her little system humming at a slightly higher level. She was on caffeine for two to three months, and I certainly never worried about my caffeine intake for her sake. If anything, I felt like I was doing a good thing by adding a little more to her system.” —Kate Carpenter
“I nursed for 14 months and my baby is now 14 years old. I had at least two cups of coffee a day and sometimes iced tea. She was colicky a lot, had trouble going back to sleep in the middle of the night, and wouldn’t go down for naps easily. I talked to her pediatrician about her sleep troubles and he suggested giving up dairy and caffeine. I remember it felt like there wasn’t a lot of thought put into that recommendation, nor was it approached with any sort of empathy. At a time when I was extremely sleep deprived and frustrated, it felt like one more thing that I had to try to manage. On top of that, it also made me feel like I was at fault for her colic and that if I just tried harder, I could fix it. That was pretty damaging for me at the time.” —Melanie Dawson
“With my first, I limited my caffeine to one cup a day, which gradually increased to four cups of caffeinated beverages. With my second son, I regularly drank six cups throughout the day. Babies sleep like crap no matter what you do. I think their temperament has as much to do with it as it does caffeine — it’s just one of many parts that make up the whole.” —Kate Makosky