Should You Be Drinking Caffeine While Pregnant?

Coffee, or caffeine in particular, is an essential part of many people’s morning routine. There’s no wonder you’re thinking about whether your pregnancy will affect how much caffeine you can consume.

You should start by giving yourself a pat on the back for taking the time to research this topic. I have some good news and some bad news.

Let’s take a look.

A Quick Runthrough Of What Caffeine Is

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant most commonly found in coffee, tea and chocolate, though there are many products on the market today that contain the miracle drug.

There is a synthetic version of caffeine which is found in cereals and energy drinks, even medicinal tablets like paracetamol contain caffeine.

Once you’ve consumed a food or drink which contains caffeine, it’s quickly broken down by your gut and enters your bloodstream. Once the caffeine has made its way to the liver, it’s broken down even further into different compounds. Each of these compounds can affect your organs in different ways, the biggest effect being on your brain.

Caffeine stops the build up of a certain neurotransmitter called adenosine, which slowly builds up throughout the day. The higher the levels of adenosine, the more sleepy you feel.

Blocking this neurotransmitter means you don’t feel the effects. This, combined with the increased production of adrenaline in your blood, and dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, gives you the feeling of an energy ‘boost’.

You can feel the effects after 20 minutes, and with a half life of 6 hours, it can take a long time for all the caffeine to be flushed from your system. We have a much more detailed article on caffeine if you want to learn more.

pregnant woman with partner drinking coffee

What We Know About Caffeine And Pregnancy

Pregnant Women Take Longer To Eliminate Caffeine From Their Body

A study published back in 2015 found that women metabolize caffeine much slower than when they aren’t pregnant. In fact, it’s between 1.5 to 3.5 times longer. Caffeine can already affect our sleep patterns when we can eliminate it from our bodies as fast as possible, nevermind when it takes many times longer.

At a time when you need your sleep more importantly than any other, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind if you’re consuming caffeine when pregnant.

Caffeine Crosses The Placenta

Like most food and drink that we consume while pregnant, caffeine passes through the placenta and into your baby’s bloodstream. Even if you can handle caffeine well, there’s nothing to suggest that your baby can, as their metabolism is still developing.

It is thought that any amount of caffeine can disrupt your baby’s sleep pattern or movement patterns in the later stages of pregnancy. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you both awake if consumed late in the day.

Low Caffeine Intake May Increase Chance Of Low Birth Weight

Some studies have shown that consuming less than 200mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy can result in a low birth weight. During a study published in 2013, there was a increase in risk for a low birthweight when caffeine was moderately consumed. The same study found that babies were also small for their gestational age.

More studies need to be conducted to conclude anything, but there seems to be a link between the two.

Caffeine Consumption And Miscarriages

There have been conflicting outcomes regarding this link. In 2008 there were two studies looking at whether caffeine consumption increases the chance of a miscarriage.

The first study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found women who have a caffeine intake of more than 200mg every day, are twice as likely to have a miscarriage as those who don’t.

The second study by Epidemiology found there was no risk increase with women who drank between 200-300mg of caffeine per day.

Recommended Caffeine Consumption For Pregnant Women

If you’re pregnant and still want your caffeine fix, then the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends making sure the source of your caffeine is natural. Which means staying away from energy drinks.

Not just because they have synthetic caffeine, it’s more the fact they also come with high levels of sugar and artificial sweeteners. The calories are empty and come with no nutritional value to you or your baby.

You don’t want lots of refined sugar entering your baby’s bloodstream, just like you don’t want lots of caffeine either.

For a healthy caffeine intake, you want it to come from coffee, tea or dark chocolate. The darker the better as there’s less sugar added to make up the chocolate bar. In fact, recent studies suggest that dark chocolate is actually healthy for us, as it contains several antioxidant compounds.

So how much caffeine can you have? Well, the less you have during your pregnancy the better.

Some experts suggest that anything more than 150mg of caffeine a day is too much, while others say anything above 300mg can have negative effects.

The truth is that there hasn’t been enough studies into this question to make a conclusive, definite answer.

Try drinking certain teas instead, peppermint or ginger root teas have been deemed safe for use when pregnant. Or switch to decaf coffee if you’re still craving those coffee flavours. The quality has increased dramatically over recent years and isn’t that flavourless beverage decaf once was.

If you do decide to drink caffeine, always consult with your medical advisor to see what they say.

And men, don’t think you’ve got away with drinking caffeinated coffee while your other half is pregnant. It’ll be much easier for you both to get rid of all caffeine containing products in the house and switch to decaf or other non caffeinated food and drink together.

Now let’s look at what products contain caffeine, and how much.

coffee with bag of spilt coffee beans

Caffeinated Products

You’ll be surprised at where caffeine is hidden and just how much is in certain products. These figures are according to Mayoclinic.

Coffee (Caffeine amounts can vary depending on blend)

  • Brewed 8oz – 96mg of caffeine
  • Brewed (decaf) 8oz – 2mg
  • Espresso 1oz – 64mg
  • Espresso (decaf) 1oz – 1mg
  • Instant 8oz – 62mg
  • Instant (decaf) 8oz – 2mg

Tea

  • Black English breakfast tea 8oz – 47mg of caffeine
  • English breakfast (decaf) 8oz – 2mg
  • Green tea 8oz – 28mg

Soda

  • Coca Cola 8oz – 22mg of caffeine
  • Root beer 8oz – 0mg

Energy Drinks

  • Most energy drink brands 8oz – 29mg of caffeine
  • Energy shot 1oz – 215mg

As you can see, drinking decaf coffee may be the best way to considerably reduce your caffeine intake, but to still experience those beautiful coffee flavours.

Is Caffeine Safe During Breastfeeding?

Drinking caffeine while breastfeeding is considered safer compared to being pregnant, but it’s not without some risks.

Like everything, it’s important you consume caffeine in moderation, just like you would if you were drinking caffeine without breastfeeding.

It’s found that approximately 1% of the total amount of caffeine you consume ends up in your breast milk. This is a small amount, but keep in mind that baby’s don’t process caffeine like us adults do.

According to the experts, it’s safe to have up to 300mg of caffeine per day when breastfeeding. That’s the equivalent to around two or three cups of coffee.

If you have much more than this, it could affect your sleep pattern as well as your babies. The infant may experience jitteriness or constant fidgeting, which can be a sign of excessive caffeine intake.

If you’re worried about caffeine having an effect on breastmilk production, there hasn’t been any studies to suggest that caffeine decreases production.

Coffee And Pregnancy Myths

Caffeine can cause birth defects

There hasn’t been any in depth studies on human birth defects and caffeine, but there have been plenty with animals. It was found that excessive caffeine intake can cause certain birth defects and premature labour, as well as other reproductive problems.

Some studies have shown that fetal growth can be decreased when consuming too much caffeine. So it’s certainly better to be safe than sorry and moderate your caffeine intake.

Caffeine can cause infertility

Female fertility doesn’t seem to be affected much by caffeine intake less than 200mg a day, so consider drinking no more than a cup or two a day.

For men, a study was conducted in Denmark where one group drank cola based drinks as part of their 800mg caffeine consumption, whereas the other group drank mainly coffee.

The group that drank cola showed a 30% decrease in sperm count, whereas the group that drank coffee showed no significant change. This suggests that not caffeine, but maybe certain ingredients in sodas, like the amount of refined sugar could be responsible for the drop.

What To Take Away From This

From all the information I’ve gathered on the topic, I’d suggest reducing your caffeine intake as much as possible while pregnant. The less you consume, the less chance of your pregnancy being affected.

Try going for decaf coffee and cutting out energy drinks and sodas. Not just for the caffeine, but for the sugar you don’t want in your body too.

Once you’ve given birth, it seems fine for you to drink a cup or two a day while breastfeeding, but just keep in mind how much you consume. Remember, caffeine isn’t just in coffee.

Always consult with a medical professional if you’re concerned about how much caffeine you’re consuming.

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Tom Bolland

Tom Bolland

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