Coffee is one of the most popular drinks worldwide, with billions of people enjoying it daily. But when you become pregnant, it’s natural to have questions about whether it’s safe to consume caffeine.
This thorough guide covers everything expectant mothers need to know about drinking coffee during pregnancy. We’ll explore how much caffeine is in different coffee drinks, risks and benefits of intake, expert recommendations, and tips for limiting caffeine safely.
Key Takeaways: Drinking Coffee While Pregnant
- Caffeine crosses the placenta and enters your baby’s bloodstream, so intake should be limited. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends less than 200 mg daily.
- Potential risks of high caffeine intake include miscarriage, low birth weight babies, and stillbirth. However, moderate intake below 200 mg appears safe.
- Coffee provides antioxidants and other compounds that may benefit maternal health and help prevent gestational diabetes and preterm birth.
- Caffeinated coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, and some medications contain caffeine. Keep track of total daily amounts from all sources.
- Gradually decrease coffee intake to avoid withdrawal headaches. Substitute half regular coffee with decaf to wean off caffeine slowly.
- Safe coffee alternatives during pregnancy include decaf coffee, herbal teas, lemon water, milk, and non-caffeinated soda.
How Much Caffeine is in Coffee?
The amount of caffeine in coffee depends on the type of beans, roast method, and preparation technique. On average, an 8-ounce cup contains 70-140 mg caffeine. However, some specialty coffee drinks pack over 200 mg per serving.
Here are the typical caffeine amounts in popular coffee drinks:
- Brewed coffee (8 oz) – 95 mg
- Espresso (1 oz) – 63 mg
- Instant coffee (8 oz) – 63 mg
- Decaf coffee (8 oz) – 2-12 mg
- Starbucks coffee (16 oz) – 310 mg
- Starbucks Latte (16 oz) – 150 mg
- Starbucks Cappuccino (16 oz) – 150 mg
- Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (14 oz) – 210 mg
As you can see, a large take-out coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ can contain over 200 mg caffeine in one serving. Consuming multiple coffees, lattes, or cappuccinos from coffee shops could easily put you over the recommended limit if you aren’t careful.
What Are the Recommended Caffeine Limits During Pregnancy?
Most major health organizations agree that limiting caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day appears safe during pregnancy. This equates to about 12 ounces of brewed coffee or two 8-ounce cups prepared at home.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, World Health Organization, American Pregnancy Association, and Mayo Clinic all advise staying under 200 mg of caffeine daily while pregnant.
Some women choose to eliminate caffeine entirely during the first trimester when organ development occurs. However, moderate caffeine intake under 200 mg is considered safe throughout all three trimesters.
Keep in mind that caffeine can also come from tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, and certain medications – not just coffee. It’s essential to monitor your total intake from all sources. We’ll cover how to do that shortly.
What Are the Risks of Drinking Coffee While Pregnant?
Drinking more than 200 mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of certain problems and complications. However, most of these studies defined high caffeine intake as over 300-500 mg daily, which is above moderate intake levels.
Potential risks linked to very high maternal caffeine intake may include:
- Miscarriage – A 2008 study found a 36% increased risk of miscarriage in women consuming over 200 mg of caffeine daily. Other studies show a higher correlation around 300-400 mg. Moderate intake under 200 mg does not appear to raise the chance of miscarriage.
- Low Birth Weight – Consuming over 300 mg of caffeine per day has been associated with an increased likelihood of babies born small for gestational age. Staying under 200 mg daily does not seem to affect birth weight.
- Stillbirth – A 2015 meta-analysis reported a 27% higher stillbirth risk in mothers drinking over 300 mg caffeine daily. However, no increase was found with 200 mg or less per day.
- Altered Sleep Patterns – High amounts of caffeine could potentially disrupt the sleep cycle for mother and baby. Limiting intake to the morning and early afternoon may help prevent this.
- Withdrawing Caffeine – Quitting coffee cold turkey can cause severe headaches, irritability, and fatigue. Gradually weaning off caffeine over a few weeks is recommended to avoid withdrawal side effects.
Overall, moderate coffee intake below the recommended 200 mg limit does not appear to significantly increase these risks. But limiting or avoiding caffeine may provide peace of mind for expectant mothers worried about potential harms.
Are There Any Benefits to Drinking Coffee During Pregnancy?
In moderation, coffee may provide some advantages for mom and baby during pregnancy. The antioxidants, polyphenols, and nutrients in coffee beans deliver several potential maternal health benefits:
- Gestational Diabetes – Studies show pregnant women drinking 2-3 cups of coffee daily have an 8-15% lower risk of developing gestational diabetes compared to non-drinkers. The antioxidants may help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Preterm Birth – Human and animal studies indicate moderate coffee intake could help prevent preterm birth when adhering to the 200 mg/day limit.
- Liver Function – Coffee helps stimulate and regulate the production of liver enzymes and bilirubin during pregnancy as the liver processes extra hormones.
- Mental Alertness – The right amount of caffeine may promote concentration, focus, and alertness in expectant mothers who are experiencing pregnancy-related fatigue and brain fog.
- Mood Enhancement – Coffee stimulates dopamine production which boosts mood and helps regulate emotions during stressful pregnancy periods filled with hormonal changes.
The key is sticking within the recommended daily caffeine range to get these benefits without incurring the potential pregnancy risks from excessive intake.
Which Sources of Caffeine Should I Limit?
Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, and certain drugs contain caffeine. To stay under the 200 mg daily cutoff, consider all sources contributing to your total intake:
- Coffee – The biggest offender, with anywhere from 63-315 mg per eight ounce cup depending on the type. Limit to 1-2 small cups of homebrewed coffee.
- Black tea – 47 mg per eight ounce cup on average. Cap at 2-3 cups maximum.
- Green tea – 25 mg per eight ounce serving typically. Enjoy up to 3-4 cups daily.
- Soda – 35-45 mg per 12 ounce can for regular versions. Opt for caffeine-free sodas and limit to 1-2 cans daily max.
- Energy drinks – Up to 175 mg per 8-ounce beverage. Best avoided entirely during pregnancy due to very high caffeine levels.
- Chocolate – Varies greatly depending on type. 1-ounce of dark chocolate may contain 20 mg, whereas an equal amount of milk chocolate has just 6 mg. Limit chocolate to 1-2 small servings daily as part of the overall caffeine limit.
- Pain relievers – 65 mg per tablet for Excedrin Migraine or 130 mg per two Extra Strength Tylenol tablets. Use only as needed following dosage instructions.
Tracking your caffeine adds up quickly, so be vigilant about checking labels to know how much you are really consuming from all sources combined.
Tips for Cutting Down on Coffee During Pregnancy
If you’re used to drinking several cups of coffee daily or getting Starbucks frequently, use these helpful tips to gradually decrease your intake to stay under 200 mg per day:
- Substitute half your regular coffee with decaf – Mix together 50% caffeinated and 50% decaffeinated to slowly wean yourself off caffeine rather than going cold turkey.
- Choose smaller coffee cup sizes – Opt for a 10-12 ounce coffee rather than 16-20 ounce; less liquid means less caffeine.
- Request just 1 shot of espresso – Capping yourself at a single espresso shot while pregnant provides 75 mg caffeine rather than 150 mg for a double.
- Avoid coffee after 2 p.m. – Caffeine’s energizing effects can make falling asleep at night more difficult which is already a challenge for expectant mothers. Stop intake by mid-afternoon.
- Drink herbal caffeine-free teas – Teas like chamomile, peppermint, ginger, and rooibos provide hydration, antioxidants, and a warm comforting beverage minus any caffeine.
- Limit chocolate to small occasional servings – Having a small 1-ounce square of dark chocolate or chocolate chip cookie satisfies a craving without overdoing caffeine.
- Check labels on pain relievers – Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a safer choice than aspirin-based tablets which have caffeine added.
- Supplement with non-caffeinated beverages – Water, milk, juices, sparkling water, decaf coffee and tea help fill the gap so you don’t miss regular coffee as much.
Healthy Coffee Alternatives During Pregnancy
While you can still enjoy a cup of joe within reason, replacing some coffee with non-caffeinated or lower caffeine beverages provides variety and helps keep your total daily caffeine amounts in check:
Switching to decaf is an easy way to still drink coffee. Look for certified organic decaf coffee beans which are processed using safe low-chemical Swiss Water or CO2 extraction methods. Decaf has 2-12 mg caffeine per eight ounce cup.
Caffeine-free teas provide comfort and flavor without caffeine. Try chamomile, peppermint, ginger, rooibos, or hibiscus teas. Limit teas made from herbal ingredients like yerba mate which still contain caffeine.
Milk is naturally high in calcium, vitamin D, protein and fluids – all essentials for pregnancy health. Enjoy a cold glass of low-fat or nonfat milk when you’d usually have a coffee.
Sip on lightly flavored or plain sparkling mineral water for refreshing carbonation without caffeine, sugar, or calories. Look for brands without artificial sweeteners or sodium. Infuse your own sparkling water with chopped fruit.
Hot or chilled lemon water boosts hydration and provides some light, citrusy flavor. Try adding fresh ginger or mint too for antioxidant and digestive benefits.
If you’re craving soda, reach for caffeine-free varieties such as Sprite, Fanta Orange, or Schweppes Ginger Ale. Be mindful of high sugar content and stick to small servings or dilute with seltzer.
Make your own pregnancy-friendly juices using fruits and veggies like carrots, oranges, beets, apples, spinach, and pineapple. Store-bought low-sodium vegetable juices fortified with extra folate are also great.
The Bottom Line – Is It Safe To Drink Coffee While Pregnant?
While expectant mothers should limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, drinking moderate amounts of coffee below that upper threshold is considered safe during pregnancy and provides some beneficial antioxidants.
To keep caffeine amounts in check, gradually decrease coffee consumption, supplement with decaf or herbal teas, follow expert guidance on daily limits, and monitor your intake from all sources. Be extra vigilant about caffeine amounts during the first trimester.
As long as you take reasonable precautions, carefully limit overall caffeine intake, and stick within the recommended guidelines, enjoying an occasional cup of coffee during pregnancy is perfectly fine for most healthy women and their babies. But discuss any concerns with your prenatal care provider before making changes.