Caffeine (Coffee) During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

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When you first get out of bed, one of the first things you want is your morning coffee. However, you should be careful about what you eat and drink when pregnant since it directly impacts your baby. Therefore, you might consider the implications of consuming coffee during pregnancy, including how much coffee you should drink.

Coffee contains caffeine, which keeps you active and alert during long days at work or at home. While caffeine can positively affect some people, it’s advised to avoid or limit the consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages when pregnant. Read on to learn more about caffeine and know if it is safe to consume coffee when pregnant.

How Much Caffeine Can A Pregnant Woman Have In A Day?

Pregnant women can consume up to 200mg of caffeine a day, which is less than a full cup of coffee (1). In other words, you can take one-and-a-half mugs of filtered coffee or two cups of instant coffee every day to satiate the caffeine cravings (2).

Though it is best to stay away from caffeine in pregnancy, experts suggest that it is okay even if you drink as long as it is within the limit.

What Happens When You Drink Too Much Of Caffeine When Pregnant?

Your body can tolerate small to moderate amount of caffeine every day. Excess consumption, however, can have adverse side effects for you and the baby.

Effects of caffeine on pregnant women

  • Caffeine is a stimulant, and too much of it can increase the blood pressure and heart rate, causing anxiety, insomnia and sleep problems (3).
  • It is a diuretic that increases your frequency of urination, and removes water from the body, making you dehydrated (4).
  • Regular consumption of caffeine can make you addicted to it (5). When you stop it abruptly, you are most likely to experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, and headache.

Effects of caffeine on the fetus

Caffeine can also cross the placenta and affect the developing organs in the fetus, which cannot handle the caffeine. Also, caffeine:

  • Stimulates the baby, keeping it active for a long time.
  • Stimulates the heart rate of the fetus, which could lead to sleep disturbances, and irregular heartbeat (6).
  • The baby’s sleep pattern as well as their normal movements get disturbed, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.

Continuous intake of excess caffeine can build up caffeine reserves in the fetal body, and after birth, the baby may show withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, jitteriness, and irritability (7).

Effects of caffeine on pregnancy

Caffeine could also lead to the following pregnancy complications:

  1. Birth defects: Although excess intake of caffeine can create irregular heartbeat, there is no scientific evidence saying it could lead to disability or deformity (8).
  1. Miscarriage: Some studies have concluded that there is a link between caffeine and miscarriage or early stillbirth. In one analysis of 26 studies, the findings showed that caffeine would increase the risk of pregnancy loss (9). Another study concludes that the chance of miscarriage is greater when pregnant women consume over 200mg of caffeine every day (10). In a different study, findings say that caffeine can only increase the risk of miscarriage when combined with smoking, alcohol, and drugs (11).
  1. Preterm labor: Though some people believe that caffeine can increase the possibilities of premature labor, studies find no association between caffeine and preterm delivery (12).
  1. Low birth weight babies: Caffeine intake of more than the recommended amount can lead to fetal growth restriction and low birth weight in babies (13).

Foods Containing Caffeine

For most people, caffeine is synonymous with coffee. But do you know that several other beverages and solid food items also contain some amount of caffeine? In fact, even the foods that are not listed as caffeinated and decaffeinated items may also contain traces of caffeine.

Next, we give you a list of foods and drinks that contain caffeine. This is a general average of caffeine present in each item and may vary from time to time, depending on some factors (14).

ProductQuantityAmount of caffeine (mg)
Brewed coffee1 cup (8oz)135
Instant coffee1 cup (8oz)135
Decaf coffee1 cup (8oz)2
Starbucks brewed dark roast coffee16oz130
Dunkin’ Donuts regular hot coffee14oz178
Decaf tea1 tea bag2
Black tea1 tea bag30-80
Green tea1 tea bag35-60
Dark chocolate1oz4
Hershey’s milk chocolate1.55oz9
Hot chocolate16oz25
Coca-cola1 can (12 fluid ounce or fl oz)34
Red Bull energy drink1 can (8.4 fl oz)80
Diet Pepsi1 can (12 fl oz)34
Diet Coke1 can (12 fl oz)46
Pepsi1 can (12 fl oz)38

The amount of caffeine in these foods and drinks depends on the following factors:

  • Brand type
  • Preparation method
  • The size of the cup or mug
  • Type of coffee beans or tea leaves used
  • The way it is served (for instance, espresso, cappuccino or latte)

Medications also contain caffeine

Some pain-relieving medications, especially those meant for cold and flu, contain caffeine to counter their sedative effects (15). Learn to read the composition of medications before you take them, and try to avoid over-the-counter medications. Always seek your practitioner’s approval before taking any medicine.

Are There Any Safe Alternatives To Coffee During Pregnancy?

Moderate consumption will not do any harm. So replace a big cup of coffee with a small one. But if you want to give up coffee, there are other safer, less-caffeinated alternatives to choose from.

  1. Green tea: Green or herbal teas are low in caffeine. They are barely brewed and are your safest bet.
  1. Instant coffee: Choose instant coffee rather than filter coffee. Half a teaspoon of coffee with milk will be a better option than filtered coffee.
  1. Decaf: The caffeine content is markedly reduced in decaf coffee. You can safely opt for this when you are pregnant.

You can also try the following caffeine-free alternatives. But if you are not able to avoid caffeine completely, take them just before your regular coffee or tea time. This helps curb the caffeine habit.

  1. Lemonade: It is caffeine-free, good for digestion, heart and skin health, refreshing and also quenches your thirst.
  2. Coconut water: Helps maintain pH balance, eases digestion, improves immunity and also gives you an energy boost.
  1. Yogurt, buttermilk or lassi: These are some of the must-haves during pregnancy to replenish your body system, especially during summer.
  1. Kokum juice: It is an excellent source of antioxidants, improves appetite and also helps with morning sickness.
  1. Coriander seeds water: Rich in iron, potassium, calcium, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamins A, K, and C.

Next, we answer a few more questions on caffeine while pregnant.

1. Is it okay to drink decaf coffee when pregnant?

Yes, you can drink decaf coffee when you are pregnant as it contains trace amounts (2-12mg) of caffeine, which is less than the daily recommended amount. However, remember that other sources such as chocolate, tea, and carbonated colas also contribute to your caffeine intake, which may make up the daily total.

2. Is it safe to drink iced coffee when pregnant?

Yes, it is safe to drink iced coffee in moderation. But the total caffeine consumption should not exceed the daily limits.

3. Can I drink coffee in early pregnancy?

Yes, you can consume coffee in early pregnancy, but not more than 200mg of caffeinated coffee.

4. Can caffeine cause miscarriage in early pregnancy?

Yes, overconsumption of caffeine during early pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage (16).

5. When to stop drinking coffee when pregnant?

You need not give up on coffee while pregnant, but just ensure to limit its intake.

6. Can drinking coffee affect a pregnancy test?

Drinking coffee will not interfere with or affect the pregnancy test. However, drinking excess coffee or other caffeine drinks increases the frequency of urination. It can affect the test results by diluting the urine and reducing the amounts of hCG hormone in it.

7. Is it okay to drink coffee in the third trimester?

It is okay to drink coffee in the third trimester unless you consume beyond the recommended limit. Excessive intake is likely to increase the chances of growth retardation in the fetus (17).

Caution should be exercised while consuming coffee during pregnancy. The caffeine that otherwise helps you stay active may not benefit your baby. In fact, excessive caffeine in your pregnancy diet can cause irregular heart rate in the baby and increased blood pressure and anxiety in the mother. Hence, you may try safe alternatives to coffee such as green tea, decaf coffee, and coconut water. However, if you’re a regular coffee drinker, you need not stop completely. Instead, consult your ob/gyn to know the safe amount you can take.

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Dr. Shikha Sharma

(MBBS)
Celebrity nutrition advisor Dr. Shikha Sharma has founded Dr. Shikha’s Nutrihealth in 1998. Dr. Shikha has done her MBBS from Maulana Azad Medical College and her organization, Dr. Shikha's NutriHealth, has over 50 Ayurveda experts and nutritionists who provide consultation services to the clients. The Nutrihealth expert team handles weight loss/weight gain, PCOS, thyroid, diabetes, cholesterol, post-pregnancy weight loss and... more

Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more