Drinking Coffee During Pregnancy: What you need to know

A picture of coffee beans to symbolize caffeine intake during pregnancy.

For many women, starting their day with anything but a cup of joe seems impossible. Coffee is one of the most comforting and caffeinated drinks in the world. The great caffeine debate is something pregnancy experts have deliberated for decades.

Although there are no definitive studies showing caffeine directly harms a fetus, there is evidence that it may create discomfort for baby and that prolonged or heavy use could lead to premature labor or miscarriage.

So, for coffee-loving pregnant women, cutting down will be hard. But just how much do you have to cut down?  We've compiled all the latest research on caffeine to give you a clear picture of what you should consider before ordering that Grande Latte.

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How Caffeine Affects You and Baby

Caffeine is a stimulant—meaning that it increases your heart rate and blood pressure as it increases your alertness.

While the effects of caffeine are usually not harmful to you, they can interfere with baby’s development, from mild discomfort to potential iron deficiency.

While your body may have built up a tolerance to caffeine, a cup or two might not noticeably affect you. But remember that your developing baby doesn't have the same tolerance, and hasn't developed his or her metabolism to process caffeine as quickly as you can. While you only feel the effects of your morning coffee for a few hours, it may take longer for it to leave baby's bloodstream.

When you drink coffee, it passes through your placenta and into your baby’s bloodstream. Since baby directly feels the effects of this caffeine, it’s wise to keep your levels low to avoid causing in-utero jitters. Much like how caffeine keeps you awake, it can also change your baby's sleep patterns in utero.  A certain amount of caffeine can lead to significant discomfort for you both —especially if you already find it harder to sleep while pregnant.

Caffeine inhibits your ability to absorb the iron you both need during your nine months together.  Iron is essential to a healthy pregnancy, helping to the create hemoglobin needed to transfer oxygen from your lungs to baby’s bloodstream. Baby also needs your iron to build up their own reserves for healthy brain development in the first few months following birth. 

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Can I have any caffeine while pregnant?

Yes. Pregnancy doesn't mean you must cut out all caffeine—but don't overdo it. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you have no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day throughout your pregnancy, although other sources suggest limiting your intake to 200 mg.

How much is 200 mg of caffeine? That's approximately one medium coffee, depending on the roast and brand (that fancy pour-over might be more caffeinated than you think, and the lighter the roast, the higher the caffeine level).

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you have no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day throughout your pregnancy.

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Keep in mind that coffee isn't your only source of caffeine. It’s also found in tea, chocolate, soda, and even some common painkillers.  Caffeine levels in tea are generally much lower than in coffee, but always check the label —black tea often has almost as much caffeine as a small cup of coffee. A 12-ounce can of soda has about 30-40mg of caffeine. Chocolate has small levels of caffeine (there are 5mg in a Snicker's bar), so it's safe to eat in moderate amounts. Just remember to keep track of what you're eating, because it can all add up to unhealthy levels.

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Can caffeine cause birth defects or other issues?

While excessive (over 400mg/day) caffeine consumption has been shown to cause birth defects in other animals, there has been no evidence of the same in humans.

Research disagrees regarding the effects of caffeine in humans. One study by the ACOG found no link between moderate caffeine use and miscarriage.  Another study by the National Institute of Health found higher miscarriage rates in expectant mothers who drank more than two caffeinated drinks per day.

Caffeine can pass through your bloodstream and into breast milk

What about breastfeeding?

Caffeine can pass through your bloodstream and into breast milk, so it's not advisable to start drinking three cups of coffee again as soon as you give birth.

And remember—you might find it especially hard to sleep and may experience significant mood changes during and directly after pregnancy. A lot of caffeine can exacerbate these issues, so it's important to consider your wellbeing in addition to baby's. See if you can go on a walk, or meditate, instead of drinking your usual cup of coffee.

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Ultimately, it's important to talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption and how it could affect your pregnancy. Just remember that a small amount is perfectly fine—but don't rely on caffeine to wake yourself up! It might take a while to detox, especially if you ingest a large amount per day, but you and your baby will be happier and healthier if you can cut down significantly. Your other favorite foods that have caffeine in them, chocolate, learn more