Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine, Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

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One morning, I was grabbing a coffee at a coffee shop just around the corner from my workplace. I go there sometimes, when I leave my house and arrive early to work. I would spend the extra 15 minutes to drink my coffee and study a bit of my nursing material. At the time, I was preparing for my NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination).

Everyone could see that I was visibly pregnant. Of course, at 32 weeks, I was definitely showing, and you can also tell by all the stares that came my way when I stepped foot into the shop.

No, I didn’t order decaffeinated coffee. I ordered a regular one. And I just have one cup per day, but not every day.

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When the barista took my order, he was hesitant. He looked at my swelling belly, then at my face, and then at his coworker. I was waiting for him to say something, and he did. He simply said,

oh, you know we also have decaffeinated coffee and espresso too.”

I was empathetic and tried to understand that this man’s concern came from a good place. So I kindly declined his offer and asked for a regular coffee. Then I proceeded to say that one cup a day is fine.

And although it looked like he didn’t believe me, he went ahead and poured me a cup of caffeinated coffee anyway.

I will say that this did bother me. I’m sure he thought very little of me to be drinking caffeine while carrying a child. But seriously? Did he think I was drinking alcohol everyday too?

I respect his concern but he didn’t respect the fact, that I did my research and that if he wanted to correct me about something, maybe he should have done his research too.

Obviously, I am not the first pregnant woman to experience this. In fact, my experience was pretty mild compared to others.

Have you heard about the one where a grandmother literally snatched and threw away a pregnant woman’s cold brew coffee?! Mamma-mia…

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Is it safe to drink caffeinated coffee during pregnancy?

After the first trimester, it is safe to drink ONE CUP of caffeinated coffee per day and by one cup, I mean 200 mg of caffeine or a 10-12 ounce cup depending on where you go.

I know, research can make this all very confusing. New studies continue to combat each other. Some say it’s not okay to have a cup a day, and then other studies refute these results and claim that these conventional pregnancy theories are a thing of the past.

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Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash

But one fact is true – there is some sort of link between caffeine and miscarriages, stillbirths, and low weight births, especially when consumed in the first trimester.

The problem with this fact is that we cannot apply a quantity of how much caffeine to these risks or determine the true cause and effect relationship between the two.

However, studies do show that consumption of caffeine over the recommended 200 mg per day results in double the risk of miscarriages and low birth weights.

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Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

How does caffeine affect the human body?

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. In the brain, caffeine causes alertness which is why many of us consume caffeine.

Basically, the stimulant blocks adenosine from connecting to adenosine receptors in the brain. (Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that causes relaxation and sleepiness.) The chemical structure of caffeine is very similar to the structure of adenosine. Caffeine therefore, binds to the adenosine receptors and blocks adenosine from binding to it. This blocks feelings of sleepiness formerly brought on by adenosine, and the release of other natural stimulants such as dopamine. (Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter released by nerve cells and contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.)

We use caffeine to:

  • manage drowsiness
  • manage headaches
  • increase metabolism
  • enhance exercise performance
  • boost your mood
  • increase concentration
  • increases motivation to work

The peak effect of this stimulant occurs after approximately 30 minutes after consumption.

Consuming too much caffeine can cause:

  • insomnia
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • upset stomach
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • muscle tremors

It is also a diuretic, meaning it increases urination. This causes the body to release more fluids through urine possibly resulting in dehydration.

How is caffeine addictive?

Caffeine can be physically addictive and behaviourally addictive, especially in those who consume caffeine on a regular and sustained basis.

Physical addiction to caffeine occurs when the body produces more adenosine receptors to make up for the ones that are blocked by caffeine. This means that there are now more receptors that caffeine can bind to, requiring you to drink more coffee to “fill” those additional receptors. This also explains how coffee drinkers build up a tolerance and require more coffee over time.

Behavioural addiction occurs through the repetition of drinking the coffee in a social environment and the positive feelings involved in that environment, rather than the caffeine itself.

Withdrawal from caffeine can cause:

  • headaches
  • lack of concentration
  • drowsiness
  • irritability

How does caffeine affect the growing fetus?

Caffeine can directly and easily pass through the placenta to the fetus. Adults can metabolize caffeine but the fetus cannot, especially in the early phases of development.

As mentioned above, caffeine binds to our receptors altering the chemistry of our brains and effecting our cells, membranes and tissue. This change in chemistry may interfere with proper development of the fetus.

Another theory proposes that the vaso-constricting (constriction of blood vessels) properties of caffeine may cause increased blood pressure in the mother, leading to decreased blood flow to the fetus. The lack of blood flow to the placenta deprives the fetus of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow.

Caffeine not only increases blood pressure but also blood glucose levels as well. And it increases the workload of the liver that is already dealing with the increased hormonal demands of pregnancy.

Is it safe to consume caffeine while breastfeeding?

It is safe to drink caffeinated coffee while breastfeeding. Keep in mind that caffeine does pass through to your baby through breast milk, but only in trace amounts (approximately 1% of what you take in).

When breastfeeding, it is recommended that you should consume no more than 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day or no more than 300 mg daily.

If you drink about 3-5 cups of coffee, make sure to spread the consumption throughout the day to prevent high concentrations of caffeine in your breast milk.

If you find that your baby is becoming more restless and cranky after you’ve have coffee and breastfed, it may be time to reassess your intake amount.

How do you cut back on caffeine?

For chronic coffee drinkers who are or will be pregnant, it is important to wean yourself off of caffeine rather than stop cold turkey.

Start by mixing half caffeinated coffee with half decaffeinated coffee at first. Then eventually work towards drinking decaffeinated coffee entirely.

What other foods and drinks contain caffeine?

Besides coffee, caffeine can also be found in the following and should be consumed in moderation:

  • espresso beans
  • tea leaves
  • sodas
  • chocolate (cocoa beans)
  • energy drinks
  • some over the counter medication

As I’ve always mentioned, it is very important that you talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

We all know that mothers and mothers-to-be must make a lot of sacrifices for their growing babies but luckily, a cup of Joe doesn’t have to be one of them!

Thanks for reading.

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Becoming a mom: The gist of it anyway…

I knew I always wanted to be a mother since I was young. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up baby sitting my siblings and baby cousins, or maybe it’s just in our DNA – our womanly nature to want to procreate and care for something so small, delicate and defenseless. It’s definitely a combination of nature and nurture for sure.

Since I was in high school even! – I wanted to have a big family because I came from a big family myself. I have three other siblings, my grandparents lived with us during the majority of my childhood and our cousins and extended family members would spend lots of time at our home. I just grew up with lots of loved ones all around me and I knew that I wanted my children to grow up in the same environment.

An image of myself as a new mother, our baby girl, Ayanna and her loving daddy. One of my favourite family photos.

Today, I am a mother of one 5 month old girl and trying to be someone special to my partner’s 11 year old son. I am very thankful.

My wonderful partner is a notable Chef, with more than 20 years of experience in the culinary world. I was just your regular food server when we met about two years ago. We instantly felt a connection back then and today, we have a baby together.

When we found out we were pregnant with Ayanna, we were ecstatic! At that time in our lives we were definitely not ready for a baby but deep down, we had so much love for each other that we were secretly trying to conceive anyway! It was stressful and exciting at the same time.

During my pregnancy, my family lived quite far from us, so when Ayanna finally came into this world, I had to figure out how to be a mom on my own. I was fortunate that my other half had taken a few weeks off to stay home with me. He really is a good man – I’m very lucky.

To those of you who are or will be first time moms, were you ready for what’s to come? To be responsible for a life? I thought I was, but when the time finally came, I realized how much I didn’t know.

The struggle is real! From the traumas of birth to coming home with your newborn, it’s all so exhausting yet exciting! Though I was fortunate enough to have minor consequences from the actual birth, the reality of caring for my newborn was another story… I had the worst time with breastfeeding and latching. My little one just wouldn’t latch, and when she did, it was so painful! She would scream and scream and scream and there were many, many sleepless, inconsolable, and desperate nights…

People have told me many things like what to do, what not to do, this and that…. and yet there were so many other things that they didn’t tell me. So I decided to write a blog for first time moms (all moms really), who have, and are struggling with pregnancy and postpartum, and for those who lived far from their families and support systems and had to learn how to be a mom on their own.

I hope this blog will provide strength, reassurance, and guidance to those who feel lost, hopelessness and despair. I want to remind all first time mothers that yes, immediately postpartum, it can feel like the toughest moments of your entire life, but it doesn’t have to be. Even in those darkest moments, motherhood is a still a beautiful thing.

I want to remind mothers that everything is going to be okay, and that there will always be someone to help – and that you are doing a great job, and you are a great mom.

Thanks for reading. xoxo

Increasing your breast milk supply: What worked and what didn’t for me

Immediately postpartum, I was determined to breastfeed my newborn baby because breast milk is the most natural and beneficial food to feed your infant. Unfortunately, I struggled with breastfeeding and latching to the point where I was miserable. I wasn’t able to focus on what truly mattered – enjoying those precious early moments with my newborn baby. I tried a couple of tips to increase my milk supply but my other postpartum issues got the best of me and I switched to formula. For those who want to breastfeed and increase their milk supply, I have listed some tips and strategies that worked and didn’t for me below. But before we begin, you need to understand the basics of breastfeeding!

Breast milk is the most natural way to feed your baby.

…contains vitamins, protein, fats, and antibodies to meet your infants growing needs.

Colostrum is the first milk substance that your breasts produce for your newborn baby.

…is concentrated breast milk that is expelled from a mother’s breast in the early stages of postpartum. It is antibody and laxative rich. Colostrum is thicker and more yellowish in color. Eventually, colostrum will develop into regular breast milk which is lighter in color and not as thick.

Breastfeeding is a supply and demand process. The more you breastfeed, the more your body will produce milk.

As your baby nurses, the amount of milk that the baby takes in notifies your body to produce more. Therefore, the most important advice I can give is to frequently breastfeed and pump, even at night! In the early stages of postpartum, it is important to breastfeed or pump at least every 2-4 hours to increase the demand and supply. The more you demand from your body, the more your body will supply. Of course this won’t happen over night. It is draining and you already have so much on your plate, but keep at it and your milk supply will increase with time and dedication.

It is also important to consider how your baby latches onto your nipple.

Sometimes, improper latching can prevent the infant from getting enough milk, and this may also contribute to pain when breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should not be painful. Seek help from a lactation consultant at your hospital or reach out to your doctor if you are unsure about how to latch your baby properly or how to hold them when breastfeeding. There are various ways and methods to hold your infant that is most comfortable for you, your body and your baby.

Before considering if your breasts are producing enough milk, consider how your baby is latching on to you.

Firstly, hold your baby tummy to tummy with the baby’s mouth positioned in front of your nipple.

The baby’s head should be facing forward and his or her body should be aligned with yours. Don’t make your baby turn his or her head to reach. This is uncomfortable for them if they have to feed for long periods of time like this.

The infant needs to grasp both the nipple and part of your areola. The areola is the ring of pigment surrounding your nipple. It will cause pain if only the nipple is grasped due to pinching.

Rubbing your nipple to your baby’s nose and brushing along his or her mouth will stimulate the baby to open their mouths wide. This is called the “rooting reflex.” At the widest point of opening, insert your breast as deep as possible to avoid only latching the nipple.

If the infant latches on incorrectly (and you will know cause it’s painful!), break the suction by inserting your finger into the baby’s mouth. Do not try to pull the baby away as this can cause nipple soreness and trauma.

Feeding holds for all mothers
  • Cradle
  • Cross cradle or cross over
  • Football hold
  • Back lying
  • Australian hold
  • Side lying cradle
Breastfeeding positions for every day use and comfort.
http://www.mummymadness.com.au
Get comfy when breastfeeding. Prevent back aches and improper body mechanics that may worsen in the future.

At first, I thought I could live without a rocking chair or a breastfeeding pillow but honestly, when your sitting there holding your baby and breastfeeding so so so frequently, your back and neck will start to ache

If you can, invest in a comfy rocking chair! This will make all the difference especially for those late nights when you’re up with a fussy baby. As well, a feeding pillow (U-shaped pillow) will help when you’re on the go or if you’re unable to sit in the rocking chair.

Here are some tips I used to help increase my milk supply.

Make sure to drink lots of water!

I can’t stress how important it is to keep hydrated, breastfeeding or not. Drink plenty of water. About two liters per day is enough for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers. I heard that it is a myth that breastfeeding mothers need more water than their non-breastfeeding counterparts… Also, don’t force yourself to chug water! This can be very dangerous and can lead to fluid overload! An adequate amount of enough to help with your milk supply.

Herbal supplements are a great and natural way to increase breast milk supply.

I have used the following herbs below to help increase my milk supply:

  • Fenugreek (along with fennel and milk thistle)
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
Fenugreek, along with fennel, milk thistle and other milk stimulating ingredients are infused into Mearthmama's organic milkmaid tea.
Earth Mama Organic Milkmaid Tea has great reviews! Mothers have worn by it.

It contains fenugreek, as well as fennel, milk thistle and other milk stimulating herbs. I purchased a set of 3 boxes of tea from Amazon. Each box contains 16 tea bags for a total of 48 bags and I had 3 cups of tea per day. So it took me a total of 16 days to use up the entire 3 boxes and honestly, as much as I really wanted this super tea to work, I didn’t do much for my milk supply. I read amazing reviews from other moms and hoped that this would be the perfect solution but unfortunately it did very little. At least the flavor of the tea was pleasant! There is a moderate licorice fragrance and flavor to the tea which I didn’t mind at all.

Who knows, this tea might work for you. Other mothers seem to swear b\y it! I got mine at Amazon for $19.50 CDN. Let me know in the comments about how the tea has worked for you!

I tried using teas that contained these ingredients because not only do I love tea but it was easy to consume and enjoy with a newborn baby schedule. But you can take these ingredients in other forms such as in capsules or liquid drops.

Ginger helps with healing after birth and also adds to bleeding risks.

On the day my baby came, my mom arrived to the hospital with a big tub of rice and sauteed ginger! She swore that ginger helped with healing and increased her milk supply when she was nursing me. So it worked for my mom way back when but for me, I saw a very mild difference. Keep in mind I didn’t take in as much ginger as I wanted – say once per week. But I love cooking with ginger, and wished I had put more effort into eating more of it when I was breastfeeding. I was also told that eating too much of ginger can change the flavor of your breast milk and I don’t know if a baby’s flavor profile is ready for that spicy, peppery taste… (this goes for spicy foods too!) If anyone has found ginger to be helpful in increasing milk supply, please comment! I would love to hear your thoughts. Ginger is also used for nausea and vomiting but has been shown to increase bleeding.

Garlic is an antioxidant but increases bleeding risk.

Studies show that garlic also plays a role in milk production. It is also an antioxidant used to lower cholesterol levels. A side effect of garlic is increased bleeding, just like ginger.

I love garlic, and I use garlic in almost all of my cooking, pre- and postpartum. I didn’t really increase my intake of garlic when I was trying to increase my milk so I can’t say for sure if it helped or not. Let me know in the comments if you increased your garlic intake and it made a difference!

Barley is a great galactogogue to help increase breast milk supply.

Beer contains barley and the polysaccharides in barley stimulates prolactin (PRL), a hormone produced in the pituitary gland which facilitates milk production.

I found this tip really worked! I recommend drinking non-alcoholic beer of course as alcohol does pass through your breast milk to your baby, but in much smaller concentrations.

Or you can just eat barley. My mother in-law made me a wonderful barley soup where the galactagogue goodness (a substance that promotes lactation) infuses into the broth of the soup – the best part! Yum, it was such a delicious soup.

When I did drink non-alcoholic beer, literally in about 3 hours, I could feel my breasts tighten and engorgement with milk!

I really recommend eating or drinking more barely when breastfeeding. The results appeared quickly and substantially.

Lactation consultants at hospitals and clinics are here to help with breastfeeding mothers who are struggle.

Seek help from your doctor or hospital! The next day after I gave birth, a lactation consultant visited me and we had a one on one session on proper latching and the different ways to hold a baby (refer to latching above). It really helped! At my hospital, there is also a breastfeeding clinic where mothers can return with their baby as many times as they need to if they’re still having trouble latching or breastfeeding.

Breast massages and warm compresses

Stimulating milk supply can occur through increasing blood flow and warmth to the breast. Massaging the breast and expressing some milk before feeding your newborn leads to “let down” reflex where your milk flow is greatest. It makes it easier for your baby to feed adequately. Taking a nice warm shower or applying a warm compress will also help achieve to the let down reflex. This is a great tip and has worked wonders.

Skin to skin contact is the most important step after birth.

Skin to skin contact between you and your baby is the very first thing you do after delivery. Benefits of skin to skin contact include:

  • stimulates rooting reflex (sucking)
  • warmth and stabilization of body temperature
  • bonding
  • regulation of blood sugar, heart rate, breathing
  • comfort and relief for the baby (decreased crying)
  • eases the transition from the womb to the outside word

Those are all the tips I tried to improve my milk supply. But really the best way to do so as naturally as possible is to…

Pump every 2-4 hours to increase your breast milk supply.

or…

breastfeed as frequently as possible!

Breastfeeding – It doesn’t come as naturally as you think…

Throughout my pregnancy, I was determined to be as natural as possible. This meant many things: a natural (painful) birth and breastfeeding – because natural is always best, right? Even though it may be the scariest, most painful moments in your life, it’s what’s expected of us as mothers. It’s the self sacrifice and unconditional love for our offspring that makes us push our humanly limits to do what’s best.

You would think that breastfeeding comes naturally – and it does. Breastfeeding is natural and is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but the process doesn’t occur as flawlessly as you would think – especially for first time mothers like myself.

When I gave birth to my baby girl in January, I had the worst time with latching and expelling my colostrum. It was the most painful sensation I have ever felt! Mind you, I had just given birth to her and was dealing with the aftermath of 3 tears and an agonizing 34 hours of labor, and I still believed that the sensation of my baby sucking at my breasts and the entire process of latching was worse than birth itself… I just had extremely sensitive breasts that just weren’t used to that sucking sensation – and I have to say, my newborns sucking strength was very strong! (Well, all newborn’s sucking should generally be strong…)

It took me 3 months to finally get my breasts used to my newborns sucking strength and by that time, I felt it was too late. (Or is it?…) Today, my baby is on formula and that’s ok.

To mothers and parents who feed their child formula, let me just say, you’re doing what’s right for you and your baby. I have no judgement for mothers who breastfeed, or use formula, or both. I say…

There is this immense pressure from society to breastfeed your child exclusively because that’s what’s best and most natural. Breastfeeding has benefits not only for baby but for mom too. It has all the vitamins, proteins, fat and antibodies that the newborn needs to grow. For mom, breastfeeding helps burn calories faster to lose all that baby weight, and it triggers the release of oxytocin to contract your uterus to return it back it its normal size. (Of course your uterus will never really be the same again after pregnancy, along with many other things…) But sometimes and for some families, breastfeeding really isn’t what’s best at all. I remember talking to my OBGYN about how I badly wanted to continue breastfeeding but how painful it was to not only to latch but to watch my baby “starve” and not get enough from me. I had tried everything from lactation consultants to breast massages and warm compresses and so forth… (Check out my post about breastfeeding tips here.) I felt that I had already failed as a mother, and she was only just a few weeks old. She assured me that breastfeeding isn’t always the right decision for every family and I had to do what was right for mine. She also said that I would be surprised by how many of us were formula fed, herself included!

Along with PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) and other conflicting postpartum issues, I had to set aside my unrealistic goals in order to do what was truly best for my baby, and that was to switch to formula feeds. Today, she is a vibrant and cheerful little 5 month old baby and honestly, if she were on my breast milk, she would still be just as vibrant and cheerful.

I had spoken to another mom about my failures of breastfeeding, and she reassured me that I was doing just fine. She said she had breastfed her first child exclusively because she wanted to be as natural as possible. And then, she had a second child who she tried to breastfeed exclusively as well. And then unexpectedly, a third child came. At this point, she couldn’t keep up with the crazy demand so she switched to formula for her last two children. She said to me, “…my oldest son who had my breast milk is just as weird as my youngest who is on formula…And I hope this makes you feel much better, because I know I did.

So to those who truly do want to breastfeed exclusively, here are a few tips I wish I had known while I was pregnant:

If you are going to be a first time mom and are currently pregnant, feel your breasts and try massaging them. If they feel tender or painful upon moderate pressure, then you may have a tough time with breastfeeding like I did. Of course, not everyone is the same and breastfeeding may come about more easily for some mothers compared to others. And if the pain is that excruciating, you may be experiencing breast engorgement or duct blockage. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure. Massaging the breasts is the most important tip I can give to new mothers like myself who have no idea what they’re doing! I had to push through the pain of massaging and rubbing my breasts to “let down” the milk all while trying to make sure my newborn baby was getting enough. It was draining. Massaging those breasts helps them get used to movement and pressure so start early, even before baby arrives! And when it comes time to latch on your newborn, these sensations shouldn’t be so new to your breasts. Of course, it may still be painful at first but not as excruciating. That way, you’ll be able to better enjoy those precious moments of your first feeding with your newborn baby instead of focusing on the “why can’t I feed my newborn like other mothers do so naturally?! I have failed as a mother already…Nope, none of that!

Of course, drink plenty of water. This not only helps with your milk supply, but it also helps to reduce the pedal edema (swelling in the feet) by flushing out all the excess fluid that has developed in your body. (During pregnancy, our bodies produce and retains fluid to meet the needs for your developing fetus.)

Always try to minimize stress! That is a given. Stress contributes to so many health conditions in every aspect of life. Be kind to yourself! You are creating a new life and that’s pretty darn amazing! Take some deep breaths, think happy thoughts, and surround yourself with good vibes.

Also, continue to exercise! Avoid strenuous training but continue with those stretches or even take a scenic walk. Ask your doctor what is right for you but if your condition doesn’t warrant otherwise, then continue to be active throughout your pregnancy. Remember to rest when you are tired. Being active is great but don’t push it. Trust your instinct. Move when you want to, rest when you need to.

Lastly, ask for help. It’s ok to admit you have no idea what you’re doing. I mean, do we really know what were doing? I know I didn’t and everything turned out just fine. Another piece of advise to new moms is, no matter how bad you think it gets, it will always pass. It won’t last forever. Talk to someone – your partner, a family member, a friend, your doctor. Reassure yourself that everything is ok, and that you are doing great and you’re a good mom. Hopefully they will reassure you too.

To those having a tough time with breastfeeding and are considering formula feeds, that’s ok too. Modern science has created some amazing inventions, and now mothers struggling with breastfeeding don’t have to feel so defeated and alone anymore. Formula will not make your child any less of a person than those fed with breast milk. You have not failed as a mother. You are not a bad mom.