After being up in the night with my little ones, I used to feel like the only thing that could get me through the next day was coffee. I knew that I shouldn’t consume too much caffeine while breastfeeding, but every resource I read said that it was okay to drink coffee moderately while breastfeeding. So I did.
While breastfeeding my first two children (Ruby and Elliot), I drank coffee in the morning, but then after Ophelia, I quit upon the recommendation of my midwife. When Ophelia’s fussiness completely stopped and she began sleeping through the night, I learned then and there that the cause of so many sleepless nights and so many fussy evenings were the result of me drinking coffee.
Now, after the birth of my fifth baby, I did some eye opening research that has made it easy for me to completely give up coffee and to be vigilant about avoiding all products containing caffeine including black tea kombucha and chocolate. It may seem like a lot to give up, but Jack is almost two months old, and I have never once been up in the night with him. He also naps wonderfully and has the best temperament of any baby I’ve ever had.
How Coffee Works
When you understand how coffee works, it’s easy to see why new mothers would be tempted by this delicious beverage. There are three tiers to how caffeine gives you more energy.
- Caffeine prevents you from feeling tired. The caffeine molecule is very similar to the adenosine molecule in the brain. Adenosine plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle. When it binds to enough receptors, it signals to the brain that it is time for rest or sleep. When caffeine is present, it binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain cells and blocks them from binding to other cells. So basically, caffeine prevents you from feeling tired. Also, when the caffeine is gone, you will feel a big crash as all of the adenosine receptors bind at once signaling the need to rest or sleep.
- Caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline. Elevated levels of adenosine in the blood cause the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. The release of adrenaline will further add to the feelings of alertness and energy.
- Caffeine makes you feel good. When adenosine is blocked by caffeine, the dopamine system works more efficiently. Dopamine is the feel good transmitter of the brain, and so it makes us very euphoric when we drink coffee. This is also what makes it addictive and so very hard to quit (Source).
Half Life of Caffeine in Adults
Half life is a term used to explain the time when half of the atoms in a certain element have been eliminated.
The half life of caffeine from drinking one 8 oz. cup of coffee for an adult is about 4-6 hours. This means that if an 8 oz. cup of coffee contained 100 mg of caffeine at 8 a.m., 50 mg would still remain by about 2:00 p.m. and the remainder should be metabolized by about 8:00 p.m.
There are many different factors that affect how people metabolize caffeine. Some people can drink coffee right before going to bed and not feel restless at all and others can feel jittery from eating a piece of chocolate. How sensitive to caffeine you are depends on several genetic factors which is different from a person’s caffeine tolerance that is built up over time.
Half Life of Caffeine in Babies
Yes, caffeine passes into breast milk, and even though the nursing baby only gets 1.5% of the caffeine the mom gets, a baby cannot metabolize it the same way as the mother. Adults metabolize caffeine primarily in the liver, but a child’s liver isn’t fully formed until they are two, so they are very inefficient at metabolizing caffeine.
- Newborn: The half life of caffeine in a newborn is 97.5 hours. So that means if you have one cup of coffee, it will take about 8 days for the caffeine in that coffee to be out of your baby’s system.
- 3-5 Months: When a baby is between 3-5 months of age, the half life of caffeine is 14 hours. So that means if you have one cup of coffee, it will take about 28 hours for the caffeine in that coffee to be eliminated from the baby’s system.
- 6+ Months: Babies older than 6 months old have a half like of 2.6 hours for caffeine, so it will take 5.2 hours for one cup of coffee that you had to be out of your baby’s system (Source).
Once I learned that it would take my newborn 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, I knew it wouldn’t be worth it for me to even have one cup. Now, once a baby is over 6 months old, a cup of coffee in the morning shouldn’t be a problem. But seriously, what mom only has one cup of coffee in the morning???
Because babies are inefficient at metabolizing caffeine, a small amount can have a huge effect. On the La Leche League website, they explain how caffeine accumulates in infants. So, if it takes an infant 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, imagine what kind of caffeine build up your new baby has after you’ve been drinking coffee every day for two weeks straight. No wonder why so many babies are up in the night!
Signs Your Baby is Getting Too Much Caffeiene
Just like when you drink too much coffee and get jittery, so can your baby. Babies can be fussy for a number of reasons (hungry, need a diaper change, too hot or cold, tired, etc.), and so it may be hard to say for certain that a baby is reacting to the caffeine, but these are some of the signs I have noticed with my own babies when I drank too much coffee.
- Flailing arms
- Scratching face
- Won’t nap during the day
- Awake for long periods in the night
- Overtired but can’t fall asleep
- Falls asleep in your arms but wakes up when laid down
- Has a “witching hour” where he or she is inconsolable at the same time every night
Making the Decision to Quit
I think it’s best to never start drinking coffee after your little one is born, but if it’s too late for that and you’re looking to quit now, here are some things to keep in mind. If you quit cold turkey, you are going to feel the barrage of withdrawl side effects all at once. The headaches, brain fog, tiredness, and worst of all – the depression over having to give up one more thing are not easy to deal with. It may be best to quit gradually, and as you do, remember to drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest.
If your baby is less than 3 months old, keep in mind that it could take over a week for him or her to eliminate the caffeine and for you to notice a difference in behavior and sleep.
Remember that this will not only benefit your baby but you will stop a vicious cycle that is forcing you to feel awake when you’re really tired.
Do I love coffee? YES! I love, love, LOVE coffee and even drank it during my pregnancies (which in hindsight was probably not a good idea seeing as how it can lead to low birth weight babies). Giving up coffee after I had already been drinking it was REALLY hard at first, but after awhile I didn’t even miss it at all. Instead of drinking coffee, I have really enjoyed drinking teeccino as a substitute. Mixed with hazelnut cream, I can hardly tell the difference. It also gives me an energy lift and contains chicory root that is a prebiotic that feeds probiotics in the gut.
When Ruby and Elliot were born, I was working full time and coffee was a regular part of my morning. Looking back at it now, I can see that Ruby’s witching hour (where every night for four hours she was inconsolable, wouldn’t sleep, got overtired, and was very very upset) and Elliot’s constant flailing arms and fussiness were very much the result of my coffee drinking.
When Ophelia was born, I was staying at home and not drinking as much coffee, but still some. When I learned from our midwife about the half life of coffee. I quit drinking it and noticed a dramatic difference. But still, I had a hard time giving it up for good, and a cup here and there eventually turned into regular coffee drinking. When Julian was born, I cautiously had some once he was older, but after doing this research before Jack was born, I have been convinced to completely eliminate it.
I have never ONCE been up in the night with Jack (he’s almost 2 months old), and I attribute this to my complete elimination of caffeine.
Something happened recently that even further convinced me of the negative effects of caffeine on babies. Even though Jack has consistently slept during the night (I still get up to nurse him frequently, but he always stays asleep.)
It started out gradually, the flailing arms, the lack of naps during the day, the more wakings during the night, etc., and I thought to myself, “He’s displaying all of the signs of caffeine consumption…but I’m not drinking coffee…where else could I – Oh….” Then I suddenly remembered that when making my kombucha tea, I had been brewing my red raspberry leaves with the leftover black tea from Scott’s tea. I had assumed that what little caffeine was there was being broken down by the kombucha scoby, but apparently not.
On the FIRST day that I stopped drinking kombucha, I noticed a difference. He started napping during the day for long stretches of time again, he stayed asleep longer when he fell asleep, and he stopped flailing his arms.
Knowing what I know now about the half life of caffeine in babies, I have no problem completely eliminating caffeine for the first 3 months especially. I mean, if it takes a newborn 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, I am quite shocked that the majority of resources on the internet say that drinking coffee moderately is no problem. Drinking coffee moderately when your baby is over 6 months old seems fairly safe, but to be honest, I feel like it just creates a vicious cycle of false awakeness that would best be remedied from taking a quick nap, going to bed earlier, drinking more water, etc.
I know that there will be a time when I can drink coffee freely again, and in the meantime I have a sweet little bundle that is only going to need me like this for a very short period of time. What initially seemed like a sacrifice is now just part of what I call being a mom, and it is a greater reward than anything that could be found in a cup.