Caffeine and Pregnancy

Recommendation, Side Effects, and Pregnancy Concerns

Pregnant woman with cup of tea holding her belly

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When you’re pregnant, you tend to be more conscious of your health and diet. You give up things like alcohol, sushi made with raw fish, and unpasteurized soft cheese. But, what about caffeine? Do you have to give up your morning coffee, sodas, and the occasional chocolate bar?

Fortunately, you can still get your daily caffeine fix while pregnant, but there are some important things to know about how to safely consume caffeine during pregnancy.

Caffeine Safety Recommendations During Pregnancy

Caffeine is an ingredient in many beverages, foods, and snacks, so it might be hard to avoid caffeine altogether. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry too much about taking in a small to moderate amount of caffeine each day during pregnancy.

Most experts agree that it’s safe to have up to 200 milligrams per day of caffeine during pregnancy, which is equal to approximately two 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee.

How Caffeine Impacts the Body During Pregnancy

Even though it takes longer to clear caffeine from the body during pregnancy, a small to moderate amount is usually tolerated well. However, some people who had no issue with caffeine before pregnancy may discover that it affects them differently once they’re expecting. For example, those who once loved that first cup of coffee in the morning may not be able to stomach the smell or taste of it anymore.

If you find you can still tolerate caffeine, it's OK to have some, but it's also important to keep in mind that caffeine is a drug and it can have side effects.

  • It’s a stimulant. A stimulant increases the heart rate and blood pressure. It may help you wake up and give you more energy, but too much caffeine can make you feel anxious and shaky. It can also cause sleep difficulties and insomnia.
  • It’s a diuretic. A diuretic removes water from the body. It can give you the urge to urinate more. However, in moderate amounts, it is not likely to lead to dehydration.
  • It's addictive. With regular use, your body gets accustomed to caffeine. If you stop it suddenly, you can experience symptoms of withdrawal that include a headache, irritability, and fatigue.

How Caffeine Affects an Unborn Baby

When you're pregnant, caffeine does cross the placenta and make its way to the fetus. Since your baby’s body is still developing, the liver, brain, and nervous system are immature and cannot handle caffeine the same way that a full-grown adult can.

While experts aren’t exactly sure how too much caffeine could affect fetal development, there are a few things they do know:

  • Caffeine stimulates the baby, so you may feel the baby is more active not long after you consume caffeine.
  • It may increase the baby’s heart rate and cause an irregular heartbeat or sleep disturbances.
  • It is also difficult for the developing baby to clear too much caffeine from their body. With continued consumption of high amounts of caffeine, the drug can build up in the baby’s body. After birth, a newborn may show symptoms of withdrawal including irritability, tremors, and disrupted sleep patterns.

With these impacts in mind, it is safer for your baby if you can limit your caffeine intake to below 200 milligrams a day.

Potential Pregnancy Concerns

While reputable organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, March of Dimes, and World Health Organization all vouch for the 200 milligrams per day recommendation, one review study published in 2020 did conclude that any amount of caffeine could be unsafe during pregnancy. Concerns over potential low birth weightpregnancy losspreterm labor, or other birth-related problems were cited in the study.

Research is still ongoing, but the review of studies mentioned above offers the following information about caffeine consumption and potential pregnancy concerns:

  • Miscarriage: Though not all studies are consistent, two studies in the review found that the odds of pregnancy loss increased by 32% and 36% among mothers who consumed more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per day. The review also concluded that miscarriage risk increases with the amount of caffeine consumed, with risks increasing by between 7% and 14% per 100 milligrams of caffeine consumed per day, and 19% per 150 milligrams consumed per day.
  • Premature labor: While some research indicates that small to moderate amounts of caffeine do not cause preterm labor, the review notes that in observational studies the risk of preterm birth increased incrementally by 28% per 100 milligrams of caffeine consumed per day during pregnancy.
  • Low birth weight: Caffeine was also associated with a higher chance of having a baby who is small for gestational age (SGA). The risk appears to be lower for those who take in less than 100 milligrams a day, with the odds of low birth weight increasing by an average of between 7% and 13% per 100 milligrams of caffeine consumed per day.

The Amount of Caffeine in Popular Foods and Drinks

There are some products such as regular coffee that you know have caffeine. But caffeine is also a common ingredient in many other foods and beverages. Foods that don’t list caffeine as an ingredient aren’t necessarily caffeine-free. Even decaffeinated items can still have a small amount.

Here are some of the drinks and snacks that you may enjoy and how much caffeine they contain. The amount of caffeine in each item listed below is a general average. These amounts can vary, because the actual amount of caffeine in each product depends on the brand and the way it's made:

Product Size Caffeine
Regular Coffee (brewed at home) 8 ounces (1 cup) 95 mg
Decaf Coffee 8 ounces (1 cup) 2 mg
Dunkin' Donuts Regular Hot Coffee 10 ounces (small) 150 mg
Starbucks Brewed Dark Roast Coffee 8 ounces (short) 130 mg
Black Tea 1 tea bag 40 mg
Green Tea 1 tea bag 20 mg
Decaf Tea 1 tea bag 2 mg
Hershey's Milk Chocolate 1.55 ounces (1 bar) 9 mg
Dark Chocolate 1 ounce 12 mg
Hot Chocolate 8 ounces (1 cup) 5 mg
Red Bull Energy Drink 8.4 fl. oz. (1 can) 80 mg
Coca-Cola 12 fl. oz. (1 can) 34 mg
Diet Coke 12 fl. oz. (1 can) 46 mg
Pepsi 12 fl. oz. (1 can) 38 mg
Diet Pepsi 12 fl. oz. (1 can) 34 mg

Caffeine in Medications

Before taking any medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) products, talk to your doctor to be sure that they are safe. The two most used OTC medications that have caffeine as an active ingredient are Excedrin and Midol.

  • Excedrin contains 65 milligrams of caffeine per caplet or geltab. The products Excedrin Extra Strength, Excedrin Migraine, and Excedrin Tension Headache have the same dose of caffeine. There is no caffeine in Excedrin PM Headache.
  • Midol Complete has 60 milligrams of caffeine in each caplet. Midol and Midol Long Lasting Relief are caffeine-free.

Some prescription medications may also contain caffeine. It is important to speak with your doctor about which medications you currently take and whether or not they are safe for pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

When you're pregnant, you want to make the best choices for you and your baby, but it can be confusing and more difficult to make an informed decision when there's conflicting information about safety. When it comes to caffeine consumption, the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor at your prenatal appointments. Your doctor will monitor you and your baby and keep you updated on the most recent recommendations.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Peacock A, Hutchinson D, Wilson J, et al. Adherence to the caffeine intake guideline during pregnancy and birth outcomes: A prospective cohort study. Nutrients. 2018;10(3). doi:10.3390/nu10030319

  2. Temple JL, Bernard C, Lipshultz SE, Czachor JD, Westphal JA, Mestre MA. The safety of ingested caffeine: A comprehensive review. Front Psychiatry. 2017;8. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00080

  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 462: Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancyObstet Gynecol. 2010;116(2 Pt 1):467-468. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181eeb2a1

  4. March of Dimes. Caffeine in pregnancy.

  5. World Health Organization. Restricting caffeine intake during pregnancy.

  6. James JE. Maternal caffeine consumption and pregnancy outcomes: A narrative review with implications for advice to mothers and mothers-to-be. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine. 2020;bmjebm-2020-111432 doi: 10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111432

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.