My reasons for quitting caffeine run the spectrum, but I can say that after having quit caffeine for good, I am way happier with the decision than I had ever expected to be.
This post shares my reasoning for going caffeine-free.
Caffeine is a Legal Drug
If it walks like a duck + it quacks like a duck… Then, it’s probably a duck, right?
When I worked in neurobiology + neuroanatomy research, I got to see a lot of behind-the-scenes data about what mind-altering substances do to the brain. And caffeine was one of those mind-altering substances!
Caffeine has the same effect on our brain as a drug. You get a major hit of feel-good chemicals when you consume caffeine just like you do with major drugs. It’s an upper just the same. I’ve seen the scans first-hand on what that looks like and does to your brain and there truly is little physical difference. It’s wild that there’s legal coffee shops to an extent! lol
And that was alarming to me for so many reasons! (And here we were sitting in the conferences with all of these neurologists chugging coffee to stay awake long enough to talk about these things!)
But if you’re in early motherhood years, where you are creating a baby + you’re not allowed to create a baby on drugs, then why would it be any different for you to have a baby when you’re on caffeine? It’s changing the natural composition or experience of your existing body + that didn’t sit well with me.
You can see many obvious, immediate effects of what a pregnant mom consuming recreational drugs does to her baby early-on: addictions, physical abnormalities, weak immune systems, disabilities… if the pregnancy even carries to term. It’s all so sad.
But what you can’t see is the effect that the caffeine drug has on the brain + gut in the baby. You can’t always catch an early onset of what an unbalanced gut bacteria can do to a person’s immune system. And that’s a big deal, because that’s where 80-90% of the human immune system resides.
I want to protect my own immunity + my baby’s.
I don’t think there’s a coincidence that when your gut health is poor, and baby’s gut health is then poor, that you see these kids in doctor’s offices a million times throughout the the course of the season and everyone just chalks it up to “oh its flu season”… well, maybe not. I’m not claiming to be a superwoman mom, but my kid has never been actually sick. She’s had 1 legitimate cold after a big trip and poor nutrition from cheat meals. There’s something to be said about that. And I’m not the only one. There’s something about not impeding your gut’s natural ability to communicate with your body + brain + immune system.
I wanted to stack the deck in my baby’s favor and not be feeding it a drug that would challenge its fragile gut bacteria right from the start. I wanted my baby to get a solid head start on not being that kid who was in the sick room at the doctor’s all the time.
So as hard as it was to give up my Dunkin Donuts drive-thru order on my way to work every morning, it was going to be much harder to look at my baby with potential immune challenges that I maybe couldn’t see right away and think later on “hey maybe I could’ve done better”.
I Can Find Health Benefits Elsewhere
From a different health perspective, coffee doesn’t have the major health benefits that you would expect it to given all the media hype. There was a big hype on coffee being great for your heart + skin. But it’s not the ONLY way to get those benefits. If you could be meeting the need somewhere else, wouldn’t you? It’s just like any other part of nutrition. You can get great antioxidants from blueberries, but it’s not the only place you can get them… Try raspsberries or açaí!
Adrenal Fatigue is an Epidemic
Caffeine is such a strong stimulant that it can’t help but eventually exhaust your adrenal glands: parts of your body responsible for helping us deal with stress via hormones.
Your liver function changes, how you think (or don’t think) changes + your energy level changes when you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue. And where the majority of modern moms are experiencing some adrenal fatigue + don’t know it, there’s a lot of negative consequences that moms are just feeling is innately their fault — that they’re inadequate by nature. It’s not. It’s likely the imbalances of adrenal fatigue.
When you quit caffeine, your body has an opportunity to start fresh and give those adrenals a chance to reset. When they do, it feels like MAGIC!
I’m Happy to Not Be a Mommy-Needs-Coffee Mom
Beyond the science, there’s a social component where we don’t question caffeine because everyone’s doing it, it’s legal, there are benefits on the news, etc. but it doesn’t mean that it’s right for us. On paper, caffeine wasn’t making sense to me. In real life, every other mom meme was promoting camaraderie around “momma needs more coffee”. I wanted to fit in, but I wanted to not have to need an “upper” to get me pumped up to be around my kid. Just as I didn’t want to need that “downer” of wine in my coffee cup later at night.
It Leaves Me Feeling Like Poop
And, honestly, beyond that, I didn’t always feel physically great when drinking caffeine. I remember when I first started drinking coffee I didn’t even like the taste and just needed to doctor it up with flavor syrup, cream + sugar just to get enough of it down so I could reap the energy benefits. Oh, and TMI, I’d usually end up with some form of unpredictable emergency poop situation where I’d suddenly not be able to talk and have to runnnnn to the bathroom.
Then came the crash when the caffeine wore off. I’d be sluggish and needing another coffee or a Coke to maintain my same “productivity” level or I’d just have to be okay with having a mediocre finish to the day’s tasks. For a Type A person, mediocre was usually never an option, so I’d be caffeinated well past dinnertime + I’d have less-than-optimal sleep to show for it.
So, how did I actually do it?
We had a big 3-week European vacation planned about 6-weeks after our move from Boston to Kansas. After battling through the exhaustion of that relocation + a small time-zone change, we said “let’s do this — let’s make a baby on the trip!” And that quick decision meant that according to my wishes, I needed to get caffeine free IMMEDIATELY. So I quit cold turkey and had headaches for 3 days and was so upset at my lack of work productivity thereafter. So, yes, it still worked, but I wouldn’t recommend this method (especially if you’re going to Italy and need to turn down those gorgeous cappuccinos just out of principle!).
I stayed caffeine-free for 2 years after conceiving our first baby before falling back on the coffee addiction after moving back from Kansas to Boston. I made the mistake of having a celebratory coffee upon crossing state borders + it was all downhill from there!
So, when the time came to consider Baby #2, I had to reconsider my caffeine addiction — and how I was going to break it — all over again.
I couldn’t be down for 3 days with headaches with a 2-year-old toddler running around. I had to look my demanding productivity personality in the mirror and admit that those expectations weren’t healthy for my version of motherhood. This meant acknowledging that “performance enhancing” my mornings needed to start with something that wouldn’t leave me craving more + feeling depleted a few hours later. I wanted to be a wholesome mother for this baby just like I had for our first + that needed to start with putting wholesome gas in the tank.
How to Quit Caffeine for Good
Here’s the sustainable approach I took to quitting the second time around:
• Increase water intake a few days before (and keep drinking that much water)
• Cut daily caffeine intake by 1/4th every 3 days, have an organic green tea if you’re feeling like you need to take the edge off before a withdrawal headache hits. I find working from the end of the day to the beginning works best, so that you’re changing your morning coffee routine last after you’ve built some momentum
• Change the caffeine-induced routines — for example, if you always walk to get a coffee on your lunch break, walk a different route. If you always stop at the Starbucks in Target before shopping, rush to the back of the store and crack open a SmartWater or seltzer or fun snack.
Whenever you’re at in your motherhood, I hope you’ll take a second look at your caffeine intake. I love the mom I am — and the person I am — when I’m not a jittery, dependent caffeine drinker. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you feel that way, too!