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Is Caffeine Safe During Pregnancy?

Dianna Graveman |15, May 2012


Is Caffeine Safe During Pregnancy?

You're pregnant! Such exciting news! Now comes the hard part, if you're a smoker or you enjoy an occasional mixed drink or glass of wine. You know cigarettes and alcohol are unhealthy for your baby, so of course, you'll give them up. But what about caffeine? How will you cope without that morning cup of coffee to jumpstart your day?

According to the March of Dimes, you may not have to. Although the organization does recommend you do not consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day, you can drink a 12-ounce cup of lightly-brewed coffee without exceeding that.

Do be aware, however, that other foods like tea, colas, and chocolate contain caffeine, too, so if you plan to consume any of those foods during the day, you may want to limit your morning intake to only one-half cup of joe. And remember that some coffees, depending on how they are prepared, contain more caffeine than others. If you drink espresso or a very strong coffee, you may unknowingly ingest more caffeine than you intended. Some cold medicines also contain caffeine.

It is important to note that some medical professionals recommend pregnant women give up caffeine altogether during the first trimester.

Why is it so important to limit your caffeine during pregnancy? A 2009 New England Journal of Medicine study has linked caffeine intake to increased risk of miscarriage. In fact, the study found that five cups of coffee per day (or the equivalent amount of caffeine in other foods) more than doubles the chance of miscarriage. The study also found that caffeine, which is passed from the mother to the fetus, stays in a pregnant woman's system longer than it does in nonpregnant women.

Interestingly, some researchers now believe that the reason women who experience morning sickness miscarry less often may be because their nausea makes them less likely to ingest food or drink that is toxic to their newborn, like large amounts of coffee. However, most findings still suggest that a small amount of caffeine is okay, and that pregnant women should limit themselves to about one cup of coffee per day.

Other complications besides miscarriage are associated with heavy caffeine use, according to the March of Dimes. Studies have suggested that drinking large amounts of coffee can contribute to the risk of delivering a stillborn, although this has not been proven. Caffeine may also affect the growth of a fetus and the baby's birth weight, although studies are inconclusive, and the affect appears to be slight. But babies born to mothers who drink more than 500 milligrams of coffee per day while pregnant often appear to breathe faster, have faster heart rates, and sleep less in the early days of life. Before you become pregnant, caffeine may be a concern, too. Although small amounts of caffeine do not appear to have any affect on fertility in most women, some studies have found that large amounts (500 milligrams or more) may cause a slight decrease in fertility.

Caffeine does cross over into breast milk, so if you choose to breastfeed after pregnancy, the March of Dimes suggests you continue to limit your coffee consumption. Breastfed babies of mothers who drink a lot of coffee have shown to be more irritable and sleep less.

The bottom line? Your baby's health (and yours) is your greatest priority, and of course you want to do everything you can to achieve a healthy pregnancy and an uncomplicated delivery. The best advice is to follow your health care provider's guidelines. He or she may suggest you eliminate caffeine altogether or simply limit your consumption to one cup per day.


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