The question of whether pregnant women can drink coffee is a complex and often controversial one. While coffee has been a staple drink for many people for generations, the effects of caffeine on pregnancy and the developing fetus are still not fully understood.
Some studies suggest that moderate coffee consumption during pregnancy may not be harmful, while others suggest that it could have negative effects on the mother and her baby. The decision to drink coffee during pregnancy is a personal one and should be based on careful consideration of the available information and individual circumstances.
In this blog post, we will examine the current scientific evidence surrounding coffee consumption during pregnancy, discuss the recommended limits, and offer some tips for pregnant women who still want to enjoy their coffee.
Pregnancy and Caffeine
Pregnancy wellness advocates have long wondered and studied about coffee during pregnancy and the effects of coffee’s natural caffeine stimulant on a pregnancy. For a lengthy time, it was advised to forego one’s beloved caffeine during pregnancy, however science has provided some parameters that are worth exploring.
Coffee’s caffeine reacts with the human body as a natural stimulant and diuretic. Stimulants are known to increase blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are not advised during a woman’s pregnancy.
As a diuretic, coffee’s caffeine often increases the frequency of urination which reduces fluid levels in the body and for a pregnant woman especially can lead to dehydration.
More than the effect on a pregnant woman’s body, coffee’s caffeine crosses the placenta and into a baby’s system, a much smaller system and with these effects perhaps being much more than a baby’s body can manage with an immature metabolism and size ratio factors to consider, which can effect organ function, and also a baby’s sleep and movements.
And although we’re discussing coffee’s natural caffeine, remember that caffeine is also found in various amounts in many tea sources, some sodas and other carbonated drinks, chocolate, and some over-the-counter medications.
Can Caffeine Affect a Baby When Pregnant?
While there have not been any conclusive studies conducted on humans, numerous animal studies have demonstrated caffeine seeming to cause birth defects, premature labor, preterm delivery, lowered fertility, increased risks of low-birth-weight offspring, and some reproductive problems. Some studies have revealed a link between delayed desired conception and high levels of caffeine consumption.
Is it better to be safe and avoid caffeine then? Or what amount might be considered acceptable during pregnancy according to available scientific data?
More than one relatively recent study about the effects of caffeine on miscarriage indicated very dissimilar outcomes. A study by Epidemiology found no increased risk of miscarriage to pregnant women who drank daily only a minimal amount of coffee (ranging between 200-350mg per day), whereas in a study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology it was found that pregnant women who daily consumed 200mg or more of caffeine were twice as likely to miscarry compared with women who did not consume any caffeine.
Because of these results, some organizations, like the March of Dimes declared that until more conclusive findings are available pregnant women are advised to limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, which is about one 12 oz cup of coffee.
Further experts have reviewed studies and see an indication that moderate levels of caffeine do not have negative effects on pregnancy, where the definition of moderate varying between 150 mg – 300 mg a day. Still other experts suggest avoiding caffeine as much as possible during pregnancy & breastfeeding until further information is known.
What are the effects of Caffeine During Pregnancy on a Child?
Some important research has shown that consuming higher amounts of caffeine during pregnancy is linked to childhood weight gain, with the effects of caffeine seen even eight years later in some children.
The gist of the study is the conclusion that excessive caffeine consumption during pregnancy is linked “to excess growth during the infant’s first year of life and an increased risk of the child being overweight eight years later — both of which are associated with an increased risk of obesity later in life…”
Based on self-reported dietary data with over 50,000 pregnant women, caffeine intake was characterized as low (0-49 milligrams/day), average (50-199 mg/day), high (200-299 mg/day) or very high (300 or more mg/day), from caffeine sources like coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft/energy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk and some types of sweets. Again, an 8-ounce cup of caffeinated coffee normally contains between 100 and 150 milligrams of caffeine.
The study found that exposure to average, high and very high levels of caffeine in utero was associated with significantly higher risks of being overweight at 3 years and 5 years of age. And an earlier study reported that exposure to higher levels of caffeine in utero was associated with an 87% increased risk of childhood obesity.
The reasoning is that caffeine may affect the development of the brain’s hypothalamus-pituitary axis, responsible for regulating many of the hormones responsible for childhood growth and development, and hence result in diminished growth in utero and increased growth after birth.
As caffeine affects neurotransmitters that impact the brain, anything happening during the fetal period can be amplified and have be long-lasting effects.
Because caffeine crosses the placenta and is also associated with decreased growth of the fetus during pregnancy, this study is significant. In summary, the study recommended that pregnant women not exceed an intake of more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, which is approximately 2-3 cups of black coffee.
How Much Caffeine is Safe During Pregnancy?
Can a pregnant woman drink caffeinated coffee? The short answer is a resounding, “Yes!”, with the caveat to pay special attention to the amount of caffeine in the coffee choice. That’s great news! Kicking a coffee habit isn’t necessary for pregnant women, but watching the caffeine intake of coffee choices is key.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other credible experts are now saying that it is fine for pregnant women to consume up to 200 mg of daily caffeine, which is typically about one 12-ounce cup of coffee.
More than 200 mg of caffeine may have the effect of an increased risk of miscarriage, noting that there are inconclusive studies and to be better safe than sorry. Additionally, because caffeine permeates the barrier of the placenta and the baby’s system is immature and size for processing small, many doctors advise the limit of 200 mg.
Even though the effects of coffee’s caffeine may not seem to affect a pregnant woman, the effects of coffee caffeine are unknown and reasonably believed to be negative for a baby.
How Much Caffeine is in Coffee Vs. Other Drinks
The following Caffeine amount vs other drinks chart below will give you a way of comparing coffee to other caffeinated beverages. You can also check on individual packages as amounts of caffeine can greatly vary from product to product, but as a very general guideline, these are common amounts of caffeine in familiar products
|Coffee and Other Drinks
|95 – 165mg
|Drip Coffee Decaf*
|2 – 5mg
|63 – 126mg
|7 Eleven Big Gulp Diet Coke (32 oz)
|7 Eleven Big Gulp Coca-Cola (32 oz)
|Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Buzz Ice Cream
Some experts promote that any more than 150 mg of caffeine a day is excessive, while other experts advise to limit daily caffeine at no more than 300 mg a day. Of course, pregnant women are advised to discuss caffeine intake with their healthcare providers to make the healthiest decisions.
What are the effects of Coffee During Pregnancy
For some women who are used to larger amounts of coffee when not pregnant, because of the body’s changes during pregnancy, she may find that even one cup of coffee may cause heartburn or set of some caffeine-related jitters and nervousness. For some pregnant women, even the taste of coffee is different during pregnancy.
One issue of note is that consuming larger amounts of caffeine during pregnancy has been shown to impact a pregnant woman’s body to properly absorb iron, and so can lead to a risk of iron deficiency and anemia.
Moderate caffeine consumption, including coffee, often improves alertness and energy, and help rebound from a restless long night — more common in the third trimester of a pregnancy, right?
The trick is for pregnant women to carefully monitor how much caffeine is being consumed to avoid negative effects, and of course, every person’s body and pregnancy is different, especially when it comes to coffee and caffeine processing and effects!
What Are Other Coffee Options When Pregnant?
A pregnant woman can enjoy some decaf coffee or a blend, watching for that 200 mg limit. And you want to know another hack? Did you know that lighter roast coffees have more caffeine (and acid) compared with dark roast coffees? So, check on some darker roast coffee, and consider some decaf (~2 mg per serving) in the mix.
Discovering a quality decaf coffee brew you like and can add some flavor to is easy to do. Espresso also comes in decaf. And if it is energy you’re seeking, remember some good dietary considerations can help like receiving a healthy boost of energy some complex carbohydrate snacks and also proteins like nuts, dried fruit, allowed cheeses and so on.
Eating smaller and more frequent meals may help by giving energy without stressing the digestive system with too much intake at one time and by also keeping a pregnant woman’s blood sugar from dropping. Prenatal vitamins also provide some necessary nutrients to help a pregnant woman’s stamina without caffeine.
A brisk 5-15-minute walk can help you feel like you’ve had a few sips of coffee too! Sleep is also important during pregnancy and be aware of how your coffee intake may be affecting your sleep patterns as well, and remember that it’s important for pregnant women to get enough sleep, but too much can actually make a person feel and be more tired.
If a pregnant woman is used to a pre-pregnancy coffee consumption of 4-6 cups, the idea of having only one or two is a hard pill to swallow. Working gradually to diminish your coffee consumption will help over a few days so there is less shock to the system and to keep a great reduction in your coffee intake from making you feel exhausted or cranky or headachy from the withdrawal.
Pregnant women can work to substitute decaf for half of each cup of coffee with the rest at regular and then wean to what is best for you, while perhaps increasing decaf to diminish the caffeine but still have some and also have that familiar comfortable flavor!
One other hack is to make your own latte where you reduce coffee to half a cup instead of a full cup, and fill it to the brim with hot milk or milk substitute like almond or coconut as approved by your dietitian or nutritionist.
The idea of scaling back on caffeinated coffee consumption when pregnant may be daunting for some, keeping in mind it is temporary is helpful, and that you can still have safe amounts of coffee during pregnancy is reassuring. Once baby arrives that coffee can be enjoyed more and will likely also be needed more!