For some of us, the day can’t begin until we’ve had that first cup of coffee. We’re regulars at our local coffee shops on the corner, where the baristas know us (and our orders) by name.
But having a baby may alter your usual habits, as you begin to wonder: Is it OK to drink coffee while you’re breastfeeding? And what if your baby or toddler seems to want a sip?
Read on to learn more about how the caffeine in coffee may affect your baby or toddler.
Are there babies and toddlers who are drinking coffee? The short answer to this question is yes — research suggests that some parents are sharing their coffee with their babies and toddlers.
In fact, a 2015 study of 315 mother-baby pairs in Boston, Massachusetts, found that 15.2 percent of the mothers were letting their toddlers consume some coffee by the time they reached their second birthday.
And the numbers go up as the kids get older. Research suggests that 75 percent of kids over the age of 5 are already consuming caffeine on a regular basis. Most of them are drinking soda, but some of them love coffee or coffee-based drinks, too. Some are also guzzling down energy drinks.
But then the question becomes whether or not those young children need to be drinking coffee. Here, the short answer is probably not.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) maintains that children and adolescents should try to abstain from drinks containing caffeine. That includes babies.
In fact, the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness concluded in 2018 that caffeine has “no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”
Caffeine might make you feel more alert — refreshed, even — and ready to tackle your lengthy to-do list. But you have the advantage of an adult-sized body that can process the caffeine more effectively.
Your baby’s body can’t handle it quite as easily, and a smaller amount can affect their functioning. Whereas you may feel energized, your baby may react to caffeine by acting jittery, anxious, or irritable. Your baby might even experience colic-like symptoms.
Many of us can have a cup of coffee without any trouble at all, other than perhaps keeping us awake at night if we drink it in the evening. In fact, a healthy adult can probably consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine on a daily basis without any adverse effects.
Children are not just little adults, though. We’re still learning more about how caffeine affects children and what amount is considered safe, and more research is needed.
It’s possible for a child to consume what’s considered to be a toxic amount of caffeine, but
A very small amount of coffee is unlikely to cause any lasting harm to your child.
That doesn’t mean you should deliberately give your baby or toddler coffee, of course. But if your healthy toddler snatches your (hopefully not scalding) coffee mug out of your hands and takes a gulp, you’re more likely to wind up with a stain on your clothes than with a health problem.
You may also be wondering if it’s safe to drink coffee while you’re breastfeeding.
You might have given up coffee — or at least switched to decaf — while you were pregnant. Many doctors advise pregnant people to reduce or even eliminate their caffeine consumption. But what happens after the baby’s here, and you’re really craving a hot cup of the good stuff?
You may relish the boost of energy that you get from the caffeine coursing through your body, but a small amount can pass through to your breast milk — and to your baby. It’s only a small amount, true, but your baby’s body can’t process the caffeine as quickly and efficiently as your adult body can.
Research shows that caffeine’s half-life in new babies ranges between
As long as you approach your coffee consumption with an eye toward moderation, it should be OK. That is, if your total daily caffeine consumption is
When your little one clamors to have coffee because you’re having it, how do you respond? It’s hard to resist a chubby-cheeked toddler who wants to be just like Mom or Dad. (So cute, right?)
Luckily, you have a couple of options when it comes to toddlers over the age of 1.
Try offering a substitute beverage without caffeine in a favorite kid-appropriate coffee mug. Think herbal teas without caffeine, juice (without added sugar and even diluted with water if possible), warm water with a squeeze of lemon, or the always-trusty standby: milk.
You could even let your child pick out a new “coffee” mug to drink out of. (Just make sure it’s not easily breakable.) Another option: Have a pretend tea party. If your child already owns a play tea set, dust it off, set it out on the table, and just pretend to be drinking coffee or tea.
One more thing to remember: Don’t just trade the coffee for a soda. It’s easy to forget that coffee’s not the only drink that contains caffeine. Many sodas, teas, and energy drinks also contain caffeine.
Even some drinks that are advertised as being decaffeinated contain small amounts of caffeine. Be sure to read the labels to make sure you know the score.
So, when is a good age to finally allow your child to have coffee? There doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast answer to that question, since when it’s “safe” and when it’s “smart” may be two different ages.
As a parent, you have to decide what kind of limit to place on your child, based on their health and their specific needs.
One thing you’ll want to consider is the AAP’s policy that children don’t need to consume any caffeine. You may also consider whether your child has any underlying health issues that would require them to avoid caffeine.
You might choose to hold off on allowing coffee and other caffeinated beverages until your child is older. You might choose to allow them to have a coffee drink or a soda on a special occasion, or perhaps on the weekend.
But even when you do allow your child to have coffee or other drinks with caffeine, consider this: In general, as with many other things, moderation is key.
According to a 2019 review of research literature, higher doses of caffeine, in the 400 mg-per-day range, can lead to a host of potential problems, especially in children with heart issues or certain psychiatric problems.
Your child has plenty of time later in life to develop a taste for coffee. Don’t fret if they like to taste your drink, but don’t go out of your way to offer them caffeinated beverages, either. Be sure to encourage them to drink the appropriate amounts of milk and water instead.