Coffee is a commonly consumed beverage for many breastfeeding mothers. While moderate caffeine intake is considered safe during breastfeeding, some mothers may worry about potential effects on their baby and wonder how long they should wait after drinking coffee before nursing or pumping.
Here are some quick answers on waiting times after drinking coffee before breastfeeding:
- Wait at least 2 hours after consuming coffee before breastfeeding.
- The amount of caffeine consumed impacts waiting time. After a single 8 oz cup of coffee, a 2 hour wait is typical. For larger amounts of caffeine, wait 4 hours or more.
- Pumping and dumping does not reduce caffeine levels. Only waiting an appropriate time will allow caffeine to metabolize out of breastmilk.
- Effects on baby depend on the infant’s age and size. Premature babies and newborns may be more impacted by mom’s caffeine intake.
Caffeine Content in Coffee
Coffee naturally contains caffeine, a stimulant also found in tea, chocolate, energy drinks and some medications. The caffeine content of coffee can vary depending on the type of coffee beans, roasting method and serving size. Some approximate amounts per 8 ounce serving include:
- Instant coffee: 65-100 mg
- Brewed coffee: 95-200 mg
- Espresso: 240-720 mg
- Decaf coffee: 2-12 mg
Other factors like the coffee shop chain, beverage size and preparation method can raise or lower these numbers. Larger serving sizes and coffee drinks made from espresso, like lattes and cappuccinos, tend to be higher in caffeine than a typical 8 ounce cup of coffee.
When a breastfeeding mother consumes caffeine, it is absorbed into her bloodstream and can pass into her breastmilk. Caffeine levels generally peak in the blood and milk around 1 hour after consuming it. It takes time for the body to metabolize and eliminate caffeine from the system.
The speed of caffeine metabolism varies from person to person based on factors like genetics, medications, smoking status, pregnancy, age and liver health. On average, healthy adults metabolize caffeine at a rate of around 5-7 mg per kg of body weight per hour. For a 150 lb woman, that equates to metabolizing about 100 mg of caffeine over a 2 hour period.
Caffeine in Breastmilk
The amount of caffeine transferred into breastmilk depends on the mother’s intake. In general, less than 1% of mom’s caffeine intake makes it into her breastmilk. So for a cup of coffee containing 100 mg caffeine, less than 1 mg would transfer to the milk.
Research on caffeine levels in breastmilk indicates:
- Consuming 200 mg caffeine may produce less than 2 mg in breastmilk
- A single cup of coffee (200 mg caffeine) leads to less than 0.5-1.5 mg caffeine in milk
- Peak caffeine levels occur 1 hour after intake
- Caffeine can be detected in milk for 2-9 hours after consumption
While small, these amounts add up if coffee consumption is ongoing throughout the day. It’s best to moderate caffeine intake while nursing and allow caffeine to fully metabolize between feedings when possible.
Recommended Caffeine Intake When Breastfeeding
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers caffeine intake up to 200 mg per day to be safe for breastfeeding mothers. This amounts to about 2-3 8 ounce cups of coffee.
Other expert guidelines state breastfeeding women can have up to 300 mg of caffeine daily without affecting baby. Intakes higher than this may cause infant restlessness, irritability, poor sleeping patterns and increased urination.
To limit caffeine exposure in milk, health authorities provide these dosage recommendations for breastfeeding moms:
- 200-300 mg caffeine per day
- No more than 1-2 cups coffee per breastfeeding
- Consume the majority of caffeine in the morning
- Avoid caffeine use near bedtime
Mothers who wish to use caffeine while breastfeeding may want to limit their intake to one 8 ounce cup in the morning, switching to decaf or non-caffeinated beverages at other times of the day.
How Long to Wait After Drinking Coffee Before Breastfeeding
When a breastfeeding mother drinks coffee, how long should she wait before nursing her baby or pumping milk? The answer depends on the amount of caffeine consumed.
As a general rule of thumb:
- After one 8 ounce cup of coffee (about 100 mg caffeine), wait at least 2 hours before breastfeeding.
- After a 20 ounce Starbucks coffee (nearly 500 mg caffeine), wait at least 4 hours.
- Wait at least 6 hours after consuming a large energy drink, strong coffee beverage or caffeine pill with 200 mg or more.
These times allow for nearly complete metabolism and excretion of caffeine from the mother’s system before feeding the baby. If only a small amount of coffee was consumed with food, some mothers choose to wait only 1 hour. However, 2 or more hours provides a wider safety margin.
For mothers who consume multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, longer wait times before breastfeeding are recommended. Each additional serving adds more caffeine that requires metabolizing. Allowing 4-6 hours between final caffeine intake and nursing ensures caffeine dissipation.
Factoring in Infant Age and Size
A baby’s age and weight also impact their tolerance to mom’s caffeine intake. Preterm infants and newborns have lower capacities to metabolize caffeine. For mothers of these younger babies, longer wait times are prudent.
Recommended wait times by infant age:
- Premature or low birth weight infants: at least 4-6 hours per cup of coffee
- Newborns 0-2 months: 3-4 hours per cup
- Older infants 3+ months: 2-3 hours per cup
Likewise for smaller weight infants or those who seem sensitive to caffeine, allowing longer delays is wise. Mothers can observe baby’s reaction after feedings to determine appropriate coffee-to-nursing intervals for their situation.
Tips for Consuming Caffeine When Breastfeeding
Here are some tips for moms who wish to enjoy caffeinated coffee in moderation while breastfeeding:
- Limit caffeine intake to 200-300 mg daily
- Consume coffee and other caffeinated foods/drinks earlier in the day
- Allow at least 2 hours between having coffee and nursing or pumping
- Drink water to help metabolize and excrete caffeine faster
- Wait longer if you’ve consumed a large amount of caffeine
- Wait longer if breastfeeding a newborn or preemie
Setting a cutoff time in the late afternoon for caffeine use can help prevent accumulation in breastmilk and interference with baby’s sleep. If you want coffee with dinner or dessert, choosing decaf is ideal.
Does Pumping and Dumping Reduce Caffeine Levels?
Some breastfeeding mothers wonder if they can pump and dump their milk immediately after drinking coffee to remove the caffeine faster. However, this practice does not decrease caffeine levels already present in the milk. The only way to reduce caffeine content is time.
Pumping and dumping cannot speed up the rate at which caffeine metabolites are excreted. The caffeine has already been absorbed into the milk fat and liquid portion by the time pumping occurs. Milk expressed within 1-2 hours after intake will have nearly the same caffeine concentration as milk several hours later.
While milk pumped right after coffee does not need to be wasted, it is still best to wait the recommended time before feeding baby or storing milk. Allowing your body to naturally metabolize and excrete caffeine is the safest approach.
Signs of Caffeine Sensitivity in Breastfed Babies
Most healthy, full-term babies can tolerate small amounts of caffeine from mom’s coffee intake. Some infants may be more sensitive and show signs of reacting to the caffeine exposure. Common symptoms include:
- Restlessness, irritability, fussiness
- Difficulty sleeping, frequent waking
- Jitteriness, shakiness
- Increased heart rate
- Frequent stools
These effects are more likely to appear with mom’s consumption of high caffeine amounts. But some babies are extra sensitive and may notice even small exposures. If eliminating caffeine seems to resolve these symptoms, mom can try lower intakes and longer waiting periods before nursing.
Minimizing Caffeine Exposure While Breastfeeding
Mothers who want to limit caffeine passing to baby as much as possible have some effective options:
- Avoid caffeine: Substitute non-caffeinated beverages like water, milk, decaf drinks, herbal tea.
- Reduce intake: Have just one small cup of coffee in the morning.
- Wait longer: Allow 4-6 hours between caffeine use and breastfeeding.
- Boost metabolism: Drink more water, exercise, and eat healthy to metabolize caffeine faster.
- Use later in day: Have coffee before noon but not in the afternoon/evening.
Being mindful of caffeine sources like chocolate, soda, teas and medicines can also help keep total exposure lower. If mom wishes to enjoy caffeinated coffee, carefully timing intake and feedings can allow for both.
Speaking with Your Health Provider
As with most nutrition and medication considerations during breastfeeding, it is wise for mothers to discuss caffeine use with their healthcare provider. A doctor or pediatrician can provide personalized recommendations based on your health history and baby’s needs.
Questions to ask your provider include:
- How much caffeine is safe for me when breastfeeding?
- How long should I wait to nurse after having coffee?
- Should I limit caffeine more with a newborn or preemie?
- Are there signs of sensitivity I should watch for in my baby?
- Do I need to pump and dump milk after drinking caffeine?
Your doctor can tailor their advice based on your individual situation. Follow your provider’s recommendations as well as your baby’s cues to determine the caffeine intake and nursing timing approach that works for you.
Having coffee and other moderate caffeine sources does not require mothers to give up breastfeeding. By limiting intake to 200-300 mg per day, timing consumption carefully around nursing sessions, and watching for infant sensitivity signs, most moms can safely enjoy their morning coffee fix.
The general recommendation is to allow at least 2 hours between finishing coffee and breastfeeding your baby. For larger caffeine amounts or very young infants, longer wait periods up to 4-6 hours are smarter. Pumping shortly after caffeine intake does not remove it from milk any faster.
Mothers should observe their baby’s reaction to caffeine exposure and adjust their intake and nursing delays accordingly. If cutting out caffeine use altogether, gradually tapering intake is best to avoid withdrawal headaches. With some planning and awareness, nursing moms can thoughtfully incorporate coffee and caffeine into their diet during breastfeeding.