COFFEE. How much is too much?


Like many women I know, I went violently off coffee while I was pregnant. It was weird. That gorgeous coffee-roasting smell I used to cross the street for? Bad bad bad. I'd waddle over the road to get away from it. Work coffee meetings (before I'd spilled the beans about the pregnancy) were a nauseous nightmare. But when the baby came and the exhaustion set in, coffee and I re-friended. In a big way.

But how much coffee should a person drink? What exactly is caffeine? And is the advice different if you're breastfeeding?

What actually is caffeine?

Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug, derived from plants native originally to South America. In low doses the effect on the brain is to prevent drowsiness and give a sense of focus. Current NHS advice is to consume no more than 400mg/day.

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than are others, due to all sorts of factors: genetics, body mass, age, and tolerance (how much of it you're used to drinking). For some, even one cup of coffee or tea can make them feel jittery, on edge, or make it difficult to sleep (noooo). 

In a world of flat whites and Venti cups...what does that recommended daily max look like?

400mg caffeine is actually quite a lot of coffee - three (home-sized) mugs of fresh or freeze-dried instant office coffee; two to three shots of espresso. Black tea has about 50mg/cup, so 8 cups or maybe 6 mugs would have you hitting that max. You could chug around 12 mugs of green tea, brewed to an average strength, within the clinically-safe intake. 

It can get a bit confusing when you're out and about though. One coffee chain's Americanos and lattes have been shown to contain different amounts of caffeine than the next chain's, so the best advice is to count the shots and if you're thinking about cup two or three, tune in to how you feel and stop if you get the sense that you've probably had enough for now. There are usually two espresso shots in a flat white, one in a small latte, two in a medium/large latte. 

And don't forget the chocolate

100g dark choc contains about 50mg caffeine (about the same as a cup of black tea), and milk chocolate about half of that amount. 

Coffee and breastfeeding

I've been breastfeeding for a while and have often wondered about my coffee intake. Am I passing caffeine to the baby through my milk? Is that ok? How about when she was a newborn and feeding non-stop? What does caffeine do to babies? Is this why nap-times are sometimes a disaster? What if caffeine's the only thing keeping me awake though?

I asked an NHS paediatric dietician. It's a controversial subject. The headline, in her clinical opinion? Woman, chill. Most up-to-date evidence suggests less than 1% of the caffeine a breastfeeding mama ingests will show up in her milk (peaking 1-2 hrs after drinking the caffeinated drink). Official advice is to limit your caffeine intake to a maximum of 200mg/day while pregnant or breastfeeding, which is about half what a non-breastfeeding person's advised...equivalent to about one mug of morning home-brew plus a couple of cups of tea. 

While it's considered physiologically safe for a baby to pick up tiny trace amounts of caffeine from breastmilk, if you see any of these signs it could be caffeine-related so step away from the latte: unusually fussy/alert/distracted, wide-eyed, unable to focus well on feeding, napping in shorter bursts than normal for him/her. 

Apparently there's no solid clinical evidence behind the old wives' tale that caffeine decreases milk supply.

x Beth x