Can I Drink Coffee While Pregnant?

Woman holding coffee

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As soon as you get a positive pregnancy test, you may wonder whether or not you can continue drinking your morning cup of coffee. And if pregnancy fatigue kicks in, you may really hope the answer is yes!

While you may need to cut down on how much coffee you drink each day (depending on your usual consumption), you likely do not have to give it up altogether. Most studies indicate that a little bit of caffeine won't harm your baby. That being said, drinking too much caffeinated coffee can be dangerous, so it is important to keep an eye on how much caffeine you consume while pregnant.

Drinking Coffee During Pregnancy

It's OK for most pregnant people to drink a limited amount of caffeinated coffee during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you should restrict your total caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day.

Drinking too much coffee can cause problems for both the expecting mother and the developing child. Excessive caffeine consumption increases your risk of miscarriage or the risk that your baby will be born at low birth weight. It can also cause unpleasant side effects for you, like stress and insomnia and can make heartburn worse for some people.

A cup and a half of coffee (meaning 12 ounces) has about 200 milligrams of caffeine, but it can vary considerably between types and brands, points out registered dietician and ANA-certified nutritionist, Nadia Charif, who serves as the Health and Wellness Advisor at Coffeeble.

Not only does the caffeine vary by brand and type of coffee, but the size of mugs varies, too. So what one person might call a cup of coffee could actually be more like 20 ounces. That is why it is important to specify ounces when deciding how much you will drink each day.

In addition, the ounces in a small, medium, and large vary from coffee shop to coffee shop. Be sure to ask how many ounces are in each before ordering.

Hira Shaheen, MD, an OB/GYN and scientific advisor for a wellness company, explains, "I would advise you to choose one type, calculate the number of [ounces] you can have, and stick to it until the end of pregnancy."

You also need to count caffeine from other sources like tea, soda, and chocolate. More and more food is popping up on shelves with added caffeine. Check labels of things like energy bars to ensure there is no added caffeine.

To stay on the safe side, Dr. Shaheen suggests drinking just one cup of coffee daily to leave a buffer zone to make sure you don't exceed the daily limit.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about drinking coffee while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

About a cup to a cup and a half of coffee (8 to 12 ounces) daily is safe for a developing baby. However, consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day can cause problems. Babies may be born at low birth weight and the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth increases.

Benefits of Coffee During Pregnancy

There are no specific health benefits to drinking coffee during pregnancy, but that caffeine boost can be helpful if you are used to it. One thing to keep an eye on is if you find yourself feeling like you need a caffeine boost in order to have the energy to do day-to-day activities.

While feeling more tired can be a normal part of pregnancy, it may also indicate that you need more sleep, are experiencing increased stress, or may not be getting enough iron. Let your healthcare provider know if you find yourself feeling like you "need" a cup of coffee just to make it through the day. While it's important to keep tabs on how much caffeine you consume while pregnant, you likely don't have to deprive yourself either.

If you are used to having a cup of coffee in the morning, cutting it out completely is likely unnecessary and, in some cases, can leave you feeling groggy and with a headache. Continuing to drink a small amount of coffee, or drinking less than you usually do rather than dropping coffee cold turkey, may help you feel the positive effects of the caffeine without any risk to the baby or you.

Safety Precautions

Caffeine crosses the placenta, so it will enter your baby's bloodstream. The fetal digestive system is not able to metabolize caffeine efficiently. Consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily presents risks that can affect both your baby and your own wellbeing throughout pregnancy.

Hypertension

Caffeine consumption is associated with a small, temporary increase in blood pressure. This increase is more notable in people who do not typically consume caffeine (or their body is not used to it.) If you have a history of high blood pressure, be sure to let your healthcare provider know and ask them about caffeine recommendations specific to you.

Insomnia

You probably drink your coffee for the wakefulness it provides you, but that helpful side effect can turn into difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at night. Generally, it is a good idea to cut off caffeine consumption by around noon each day in order to prevent it from affecting sleep.

Because pregnancy can increase feelings of fatigue for some people. Plus, your changing body shape (especially in the final months) can make finding a comfortable sleeping position more challenging, so it is best to minimize any sleep disturbances from caffeine. The last thing you want is another factor interfering with your ability to get a good night's sleep.

Low Birth Weight

Expecting mothers who consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day are more likely to deliver low birth weight babies. Low birth-weight babies are born weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces and they are at an increased risk of a variety of issues, including breathing problems and jaundice.

Maternal Stress

Caffeine boosts cortisol production in the body, which triggers the body's stress response system. This is a protective feature in small, infrequent bursts but can put you at increased risk of certain health problems if this stress response is chronic.

Stress doesn't just affect the person who is pregnant either. Research indicates that maternal stress during pregnancy could affect emotional regulation in infants and kids.

Pregnancy Loss

Too much caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. "Caffeine releases catecholamine [hormones that are released in response to stress] in the mother’s body, potentially resulting in loss of pregnancy," Dr. Shaheen cautions.

When Can I Resume Drinking Coffee?

If you cut down on your caffeine consumption during pregnancy, you no longer have to think about caffeine intake in relation to pregnancy health after you deliver. However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you were drinking more than a couple of cups of coffee a day pre-pregnancy.

If you are breastfeeding, Dr. Shaheen says to limit yourself to no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day and to be aware that caffeine affects each infant differently.

"Very little caffeine comes into breast milk, so you can [likely] consume a higher amount compared to pregnancy. Just watch [for any signs] our baby is sensitive because some babies have a lower threshold for caffeine than others and may become irritable, fussy, or jittery." Charif adds, "Slightly more than one cup would be fine, but I don't advise going above three small cups a day...what you drink does end up in your breastmilk."

In addition, the same effects of larger quantities of caffeine—like insomnia, jitters, and increased stress response—apply here and are not ideal for the postpartum period. So be aware of not only how postpartum intake is affecting your baby, but also how it is affecting you too.

Things are a little different for preterm babies, though. If you delivered early, stick with the 200-milligram limit and ask your doctor when you can drink more coffee.

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

If cutting down on coffee feels impossible to you, try replacing it with something else. There are some low-caffeine or caffeine-free alternatives.

Decaffeinated Coffee

If you miss the taste of coffee, try decaf. Decaf is not completely caffeine-free, but 97% of it is removed. A cup of decaf has about 2 milligrams of caffeine in it, so it is really not a concern during pregnancy. You can also try "half-caf" and mix regular coffee with decaf to help you drink less caffeine per cup.

Green Tea or Black Tea

Drinking green or black tea is a good way to make sure you take in only a moderate amount of caffeine while still enjoying having a warm (or iced) beverage.

"Teas are great alternatives because they have a slightly lower amount of caffeine and give you a great kick!" says Dr. Shaheen.

A cup of green tea has about 30 milligrams of caffeine, and a cup of black tea has around 50mg. This may be enough caffeine to prevent caffeine withdrawal for someone who had previously been drinking much more caffeine while keeping your consumption low enough to be safe during pregnancy. It is also typically enough caffeine to offer an energy boost without a jittery feeling.

A Word From Verywell

It is safe to drink coffee while you are pregnant, as long as you keep your total daily caffeine intake below 200 milligrams. About a cup and a half each day or less will not put your baby at risk and you will be less likely to suffer from caffeine's less desirable side effects. Always check with a healthcare provider to be sure that coffee is OK for your specific pregnancy.

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