alcohol caffeine & breastfeeding

One of the first things a newly pregnant woman will consider is what she can and cannot safely consume while she is pregnant.  What is safe, what will harm my baby and what is good for my baby? What one does not often realise is that this method of thinking should continue while breastfeeding as well.

Your breastmilk is ultimately made up of what you eat and drink. The production of breastmilk takes place in tiny individual glands called alveoli. A number of capillaries surrounding the alveoli supply these glands with nutrient-rich blood from which the alveoli make milk. Therefore, if a substance can enter your bloodstream, it will also be present in your breastmilk. The real question is whether it will be absorbed by your baby’s gut or not.

Glass of red, pink and white wine


Alcohol rapidly enters the bloodstream, and subsequently your milk, reaching the same level in your milk as it does in your blood. Now experts have not yet determined a safe level of alcohol consumption for a breastfeeding mother but it is generally thought that having that ONE glass of wine every now and then is not considered to be a contraindication for breastfeeding.

A mothers pattern of drinking is of far greater concern when it comes to alcohol consumption as excessive alcohol consumption on a regular basis can limit parental effectiveness and result in life-threatening circumstances for the baby. In terms of breastmilk, alcohol consumed in large amounts can block the release of oxytocin, and affect the letdown reflex.

How does alcohol affect the baby?

Alcohol consumed excessively can cause the baby to be very sleepy. It affects development of the child, stunts growth and can result in lower weight gain.

I’ve had too much to drink,now what?

Some experts recommend that mothers wait at least two hours per drink to avoid unnecessary infant exposure. Generally, it is thought that once the effects of alcohol have worn off and you are feeling normal once more, it is safe to breastfeed. Any milk that is expressed during this time must be discarded.

If you are planning on having a few drinks, we advise that you stock up on breastmilk before hand and have someone else look after your child until the effects of the alcohol have worn off.


Here’s a favourite, especially after your newborn baby has had you up all night and you just cannot wait for that cup of coffee to kick start your day. The good news… breastfeeding mothers can safely ingest moderate amounts of caffeine.

The amount of caffeine present in breastmilk varies dramatically from one mother to another depending entirely on your unique bodily make-up. And so, the acceptable level of ingestion for you will really depend on your baby’s reaction. As a rule, we generally say that 500mg of caffeine per day is an acceptable amount (one cup of instant coffee = 100mg caffeine)

How do I know if caffeine is affecting my baby?

A baby who is reacting to caffeine will be wide-eyed, very alert and generally fussy, he will most likely also struggle to sleep for long periods of time.

If you are struggling with a very fussy baby and there are significant amounts of caffeine in your diet, you may want to cut back on your intake. Be sure to do this slowly as a sudden drop in caffeine intake can cause headaches and other unfavourable effects.

Once caffeine has been eliminated, it can take up to a week to work its way out of your baby’s system.

If your baby does appear to be sensitive to caffeine, it may not be forever. Most babies will outgrow this sensitivity within a couple of months.

Sources of caffeine

  • Coffee is of course one, but caffeine can be found in many other food substances as well. These may include:
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Energy drinks
  • Soft Drinks
  • Herbal products (including some teas)
  • Medication
  • Coffee flavoured products such as ice-cream

Be sure to check the labels before consuming products that may affect your baby.

Article by breastfeeding consultant Jenna Richards