Is It Safe To Drink Coffee While Pregnant? Caffeine on Pregnancy
Fact checked and medically reviewed by Emily Wright, Certified Nurse Midwife and Infant Specialist.
A cup of coffee is a morning ritual for many of us. But, when you get pregnant, many women wonder if their caffeine consumption has to take a backseat...at least for nine months.
The concern is over whether a pregnant person’s caffeine intake will increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or lead to birth defects. Every woman wants a healthy pregnancy and may start to think about if their morning cup of coffee is putting them at an increased risk of problems from trimester to trimester.
Many pregnant women often wonder if they need to switch to decaf, lower their amounts of caffeine, or even if they have to quit cold turkey.
Related: I Drank Before I Knew I Was Pregnant – Is My Baby Okay?
If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, it’s important to know the effects of drinking coffee while pregnant and how much caffeine is safe and advised during pregnancy.
Is It Safe to Drink Coffee While Pregnant?
Truthfully, the answers are going to vary depending on who you ask and what study you consult. It is important to note that it is difficult for studies to determine if having caffeine during pregnancy is the sole cause of risks to the fetus or pregnant person because many factors can lead to an outcome.
Potential Risks of Caffeine During Pregnancy
After reviewing many studies, it seems when it comes to coffee, you can have too much of a good thing. Experts have confidently stated the following about the risks of consuming coffee during pregnancy :
- Caffeine crosses the placenta and reaches the baby
- Consuming over 200mg of caffeine a day is associated with an increase in miscarriage
- Caffeine is associated with lower birth rates. The more caffeine consumed during pregnancy, the stronger the impact on the baby’s birth weight. Low birth weight is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.
Currently, there are mixed results regarding the association between caffeine use and other outcomes including stillbirth, childhood acute leukemia, and childhood obesity.
Caffeine and Low Birth Weight
A March 2021 study found a correlation between caffeine intake and low birth weight. Specifically, pregnant women who consumed the caffeine equivalent of as little as half a cup of coffee a day on average had slightly smaller babies.
Researchers found that maternal caffeine consumption of fewer than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day resulted in risks to the fetus. That's the caffeine content of about two cups of coffee a day.
Caffeine Impacting Growth and Height
Have you ever heard that drinking coffee can stunt your growth? Caffeine during pregnancy may also impact a child’s development later in life as well.
A new study in 2022 concluded that in addition to smaller birth sizes, any caffeine intake in pregnancy is associated with a shorter height when the child is between 4 and 8 years old when compared to the height of children who were not exposed to caffeine before birth.
Caffeine and High Blood Pressure
Caffeine is also a stimulant and has been known to raise blood pressure. Higher caffeine intake during pregnancy seems to be associated with elevated systolic blood pressure levels in the first and third trimesters.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can increase the risk of side effects like placental abruption — a serious condition where the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth.
When you did even deeper, you'll find two conflicting studies about the effects of caffeine while pregnant. One 2008 study released by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that women who have a maternal caffeine consumption of 200mg or more of caffeine every day are twice as likely to have a miscarriage as those who don't get their caffeine fix at all while pregnant.
On the other side, in a study released by Epidemiology, there was no increased risk in women who had a caffeine consumption of between 200-350 mg of caffeine per day.
Are There Any Benefits of Having Coffee During Pregnancy?
Studies demonstrate that caffeine consumption is not associated with an increase in maternal pregnancy risks, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes
Caffeine is associated with a decrease in gestational diabetes. However, they are unsure if this is because of the caffeine, or from something else, such as phytochemicals, which are also found in coffee and tea.
How Much Caffeine is Safe to Drink While Pregnant?
With different studies and medical opinions, it creates quite a gray area for women who just want to have a cup of coffee in the morning!
Consulting your healthcare provider is always a good idea so that you can get their take on your pregnancy and what's best for you. Many will tell you that less caffeine is better and that you don't have to quit drinking coffee during your entire pregnancy.
Currently, a maximum intake of 200 mg of caffeine in pregnancy (about 2 cups of coffee); is agreed upon by The United Kingdom National Health Services (UK NHS), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The March of Dimes, a non-profit committed to improving the health of moms and babies states, “We don’t know a lot about the effects of caffeine during pregnancy on you and your baby. So it’s best to limit the amount you get each day”, and agrees that 200mg should be the daily limit.
Two hundred milligrams of caffeine is about 2 cups of regular coffee or a “tall” size at Starbucks. But it is important to remember that caffeine levels can vary based on which coffee you are drinking. Additionally, there is caffeine in many things that we consume, not just coffee.
Be mindful of all caffeine consumed in a day, not just your daily coffee. This includes decaffeinated drinks (while decaffeinated drinks have less caffeine, they are not caffeine-free), energy drinks, some sodas and teas, some medications, chocolate, and coffee-flavored foods (like ice cream!)
Caffeine Considerations Throughout Pregnancy
Caffeine is an appetite suppressant, so if you are already having a hard time with drinking enough water and eating enough food for you and your growing baby, eliminating or reducing coffee can be helpful, or wait and have your morning cup of coffee after you eat a healthy breakfast.
Coffee is an Iron Inhibitor
Beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy, you are at an increased risk for developing anemia and many pregnant people take an additional iron supplement.
Coffee is an iron inhibitor and is not recommended for makes it much more difficult for your body to absorb the iron. Because of this, it is recommended to take your iron supplement 2 hours before or after you drink coffee.
Coffee Impacts Appetite and Sleep
While some things become safer in the third trimester, caffeine does not. The baby is growing in the third trimester, and higher caffeine levels in the third trimester are associated with lower birth weight and length. Additionally, the third trimester is already associated with a decreased appetite, and coffee can add to the challenge of getting enough nutrients in the day.
Your body metabolizes caffeine more slowly during pregnancy, meaning its effects will last longer. If you have difficulty sleeping, be mindful of when you are drinking your coffee to be sure it isn’t too late in the day.
Coffee & Caffeine Alternatives During Pregnancy
The idea of giving up coffee may seem impossible but there are some yummy alternatives to coffee that you can try throughout your pregnancy.
If you are looking for energy throughout the day, try increasing your protein. A chocolate-flavored protein shake or a smoothie with Greek yogurt or Kiefer can be a great alternative to your morning coffee and satisfy your pregnancy cravings.
Herbal teas or iced herbal teas are other great options because they typically do not contain caffeine. Before switching to tea, check the ingredients on the tea packaging and check with your healthcare provider as some teas may not be safe to drink during pregnancy.
Try limiting the sugary foods and drinks you are consuming. While sugar gives you a spurt of energy, it is followed by a crash which leaves you feeling even more tired. And remember, even if you cannot give up caffeine completely, limiting the intake is beneficial!
Decaffeinated coffee has less caffeine, but the same flavor! And many teas provide caffeine at a lower dose than the standard cup of joe. While you may not feel as alert without your full cup of coffee early in the morning, be sure to notify your provider if you are constantly feeling fatigued.
When you're pregnant, it's always best to consult your doctor when it comes to what you can and cannot eat or drink. Remember, everything you do now is for two. Maintaining a healthy pregnancy will benefit both you and your baby in the end. For many, lowering your caffeine intake will help get you there.
American Society of Hematology. (2023). Anemia and pregnancy. American Society of Hematology. Retrieved 24 March 2023, from https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/anemia/pregnancy#:~:text=Many%20women%20lack%20the%20sufficient,an%20increase%20in%20blood%20volume
Gleason, J., Sundaram, R., Miltro, S., et al. (2021). Association of maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy with child growth. JAMA Network Open. Retrieved 23 March 2023, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2797983
IBM Watson Health. (2023). Iron supplement (oral route, parenteral route). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved 24 March 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/iron-supplement-oral-route-parenteral-route/precautions/drg-20070148
March of Dimes. (2023). Caffeine in pregnancy. March of Dimes. Retrieved 23 March 2023, from https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/topics/pregnancy/caffeine-pregnancy
National Institute of Health. (2021). Moderate daily caffeine intake during pregnancy may lead to smaller birth size. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 23 March 2023, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/moderate-daily-caffeine-intake-during-pregnancy-may-lead-smaller-birth-size
Penn Medicine. (2021). Moderate Amounts of Caffeine Not Linked to Maternal Health Risks. Penn Medicine News. Retrieved 23 March 2023, from https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2021/november/moderate-amounts-of-caffeine-not-linked-to-maternal-health-risks#:~:text=The%20American%20College%20of%20Obstetricians,%2Dounce%20cups)%20per%20day
Teymouri, F., Mirzababaei, A., Moradi, S., Tavakoli, A., Asgari, M., Setayesh, L., Mirzaei, K. (2021). Association between caffeine intake and anemia risk in pregnant women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Journal of Pregnancy and Child Health. Retrieved 24 March 2023, from https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/association-between-caffeine-intake-and-anemia-risk-in-pregnant-women-a-systematic-review-and-metaanalysis-of-observational-studie-117294.html#:~:text=A%20study%20indicated%20that%20there,60%25%20and%2050%25%20respectively
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Having previously worked as a news producer, Kristina left the world of television when her second daughter was born, so that she could focus on her family and love of writing.