If you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to limit your intake of caffeine. But how much is okay? After decades of discussion and conflicting studies, there’s still no clear answer on how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy.
To err on the side of caution, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day, which is about one 11-ounce cup of coffee (See the chart below to get a sense of the amount of caffeine in common beverages and foods.)
What are the concerns about caffeine consumption during pregnancy?
When you drink a cup of coffee, caffeine crosses the placenta into the amniotic fluid and your baby’s bloodstream. While your body goes to work metabolizing and getting rid of the caffeine, your baby’s body is still developing and takes a much longer time to process the caffeine. As a result, your baby is exposed to the effects of caffeine for much longer than you are.
Researchers continue to try to identify the exact effect of caffeine on your baby and your pregnancy. ACOG says that so far, mild caffeine intake (less than 200 mg) isn’t considered to be a major cause of miscarriage or premature birth. One large study, however, found that mothers who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine a day were more likely to give birth to babies who were small for their gestational age.
One thing’s for sure: You’ll feel better if you don’t get a lot of caffeine. It’s a stimulant, so it can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. Plus, it can make you feel jittery and cause insomnia. Caffeine can also lead to heartburn by causing the production of stomach acid.
These effects may be more noticeable as your pregnancy progresses. That’s because your body’s ability to break down caffeine slows, so you end up with a higher level of it in your bloodstream. During the second trimester, it takes almost twice as long to clear caffeine from your body as when you’re not pregnant. During the third trimester, it takes nearly three times as long.
This can mean that more caffeine crosses the placenta and reaches your baby, who can’t process it efficiently. (This is true for newborn babies as well, which is why it’s also a good idea to limit caffeine if you’re breastfeeding, especially for the first few months.)
Finally, there’s one more reason to cut back on coffee and tea, whether it’s caffeinated or not. These beverages contain compounds that make it harder for your body to absorb iron. This is important because many pregnant women are already low on iron. If you have coffee or tea, drink it between meals so it’ll have less of an effect on your iron absorption.
Which foods and beverages contain caffeine?
Coffee is one, of course. The amount of caffeine in a serving of coffee varies widely, depending on the type of bean, how it’s roasted, how it’s brewed – and, obviously, on the size of the coffee cup. (Although espresso contains more caffeine per ounce, it’s served in a tiny cup. So a full cup of brewed coffee will actually deliver more caffeine.)
To manage your caffeine intake, you’ll need to be aware of other sources, like tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and coffee ice cream. Caffeine also shows up in herbal products and over-the-counter drugs, including some headache, cold, and allergy remedies. Read labels carefully.
Amount of caffeine in common foods and beverages
|coffee, generic brewed||8 oz||95-200 mg|
|coffee, Starbucks brewed||12 oz||240 mg|
|coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts brewed||16 oz||211 mg|
|caffé latte, misto, or cappuccino, Starbucks||16 oz||150 mg|
|caffé latte, misto, or cappuccino, Starbucks||12 oz||75 mg|
|espresso, Starbucks||1 oz (1 shot)||75 mg|
|espresso, generic||1 oz (1 shot)||64 mg|
|coffee, generic instant||1 tsp granules||31 mg|
|coffee, generic decaffeinated||8 oz||2 mg|
|black tea, brewed||8 oz||47 mg|
|green tea, brewed||8 oz||25 mg|
|black tea, decaffeinated||8 oz||2 mg|
|Starbucks Tazo Chai Tea latte||16 oz||95 mg|
|instant tea, unsweetened||1 tsp powder||26 mg|
|Snapple||16 oz||42 mg|
|Lipton Brisk iced tea||12 oz||5 mg|
|Coke||12 oz||35 mg|
|Diet Coke||12 oz||47 mg|
|Pepsi||12 oz||38 mg|
|Diet Pepsi||12 oz||36 mg|
|Jolt Cola||12 oz||72 mg|
|Mountain Dew||12 oz||54 mg|
|7-Up||12 oz||0 mg|
|Sierra Mist||12 oz||0 mg|
|Sprite||12 oz||0 mg|
|Red Bull||8.3 oz||77 mg|
|SoBe Essential Energy, berry or orange||8 oz||48 mg|
|5-Hour Energy||2 oz||138 mg|
|dark chocolate (70-85 percent cacao solids)||1 oz||23 mg|
|milk chocolate||1.55 oz||9 mg|
|coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt||8 oz||2 mg|
|hot cocoa||8 oz||8-12 mg|
|chocolate chips, semisweet||4 oz||53 mg|
|chocolate milk||8 oz||5-8 mg|
I’d like to kick the caffeine habit while I’m pregnant. Any tips?
You may find your taste buds doing the cutting back for you. Many women’s fondness for a cup of joe evaporates during the first trimester when morning sickness strikes. If the thought of your favorite morning brew is still appealing, consider switching to decaf. (Decaffeinated beverages may contain some caffeine, but it’s usually a small amount.)
If you’re a devoted java junkie (or cola guzzler), caffeine withdrawal probably won’t be easy. To lessen symptoms – which can include headaches, irritability, and lethargy – ease off gradually.
You may want to start by mixing decaf with your regular coffee, gradually increasing the ratio of decaffeinated to caffeinated. Or use more milk and less coffee. At home, try using a smaller amount of ground coffee (or tea leaves) or brewing for a shorter time. Letting a tea bag steep for just one minute instead of five reduces the caffeine by as much as half.
Although herbal teas often have no caffeine, be sure to read the list of ingredients and check with your healthcare provider before trying anything new. Certain herbs and additives may not be safe during pregnancy, and others are known to be unsafe.
One more thing: Keep in mind that caffeine can also be found in some unexpected places. Cocoa butter lotion, used by some women for stretch marks, may contain a very tiny amount of caffeine. A 2006 study found a lowered risk of fetal heart arrhythmias in certain babies with structural heart issues when their moms stopped using cocoa butter lotion during their pregnancies.
This study suggests that the caffeine in the lotion may have some effect on babies during pregnancy, though it’s not yet fully understood. If you use a lot of cocoa butter lotion on a regular basis, ask your doctor how it may factor in to your overall caffeine intake.