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Caffeine & Pregnancy: What’s Safe?

The good news, cutting caffeine out completely probably isn’t necessary.
Written by the Theralogix team of Registered Dietitians
Pregnant women don’t have cut caffeine out completely. This blog by Theralogix explains how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy.

The scene: It’s 6 am. Your alarm clock sings its unwelcome song as you long for just five more minutes, lying in bed “just resting your eyes” and trying your best to avoid drifting back to sleep. You finally get the motivation to roll out of bed at the thought of your hands wrapped around a warm mug of coffee, imagining the satisfaction of the first sip.

Well, you’re not alone — about 90% of Americans drink at least one caffeinated beverage each day. But if you’re pregnant, you may be wondering if you need to recast a part of your morning routine. The show must go on! Embrace yourself as the main character while we find out if caffeine can still play a supporting role.

First, what is caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant commonly found in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and cacao pods, which are used to make chocolate products. It stimulates the brain and central nervous system, which makes you feel more awake and gives you a boost of energy.

Is caffeine safe during pregnancy?

The answer seems to depend on the amount of caffeine you take in each day. Caffeine does cross the placenta, and some studies have linked high intakes of caffeine to an increased risk of miscarriage. However, a moderate amount of caffeine each day has not been associated with pregnancy complications, so cutting caffeine out completely probably isn’t necessary. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends limiting caffeine intake to 200 mg per day.  If you’re trying to conceive or you’re breastfeeding, the caffeine recommendations remain about the same. Less than 200 mg of caffeine per day does not appear to cause problems with fertility for most people. When it comes to breastfeeding, a very small amount of caffeine actually passes into breast milk, so around 200-300 mg of caffeine is generally safe. However, if you notice that your baby is becoming fussy or developing a disrupted sleep schedule, it may be a sign to curb the caffeine.

How do I make sure I don’t have too much caffeine?

The actual caffeine content of caffeinated products, especially tea and coffee, can vary greatly due to origin, brew time, processing methods, and serving size. If caffeine is added to a food or drink, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires it to be listed in the ingredients, but not the specific amount. Keep in mind that caffeine usually won’t be listed as an ingredient if it’s naturally in the product, like in coffee, tea, or a chocolate bar. Use a resource like this caffeine chart to help keep track of your daily intake.

Most importantly, stay informed. Get the buzz on caffeine with a few fun facts:

1.  Lighter roasts of coffee actually have more caffeine than darker roasts! But what darker roasts lack in caffeine (keep in mind, they’re still not low in caffeine!), they make up for in rich, bold flavor.

2. Decaf coffee isn’t completely caffeine-free. It’s much lower than regular coffee, but it still contains about 7 mg of caffeine per eight ounces.

3. Coffee shops might pour you a more caffeinated brew than you’re expecting. Most home-brewed coffee has an average of 95 mg of caffeine per eight-ounce serving, which means you could enjoy about two cups and still come in under your caffeine budget. However, coffee shops like Starbucks® may push you over budget with one single drink. Let’s say your usual order is just a simple tall Pike Place® Roast coffee – that packs 235 mg of caffeine! Coffee shops aren’t off-limits, but you might double-check your favorite drink before you place your next order or size down just to be safe.  

4. Your sweet treat might be sneaking in some caffeine. Remember that caffeine is also found in cacao pods, which are used to make chocolate products. If you enjoy a square of dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth, make sure you count it towards your caffeine intake for the day. Many chocolate bars are labeled with the percentage of cacao solids that they contain, and in general, the higher percentage of cacao, the more caffeine. For example, if you chose dark chocolate with 70-85% cacao, you’d get about 23 mg of caffeine per ounce.

5. Soda can have almost as much caffeine as coffee. A 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew has about 55 mg of caffeine – and that’s on top of 46 grams of sugar!

What about herbal teas? They’re caffeine-free, right?

You may be tempted to switch out your coffee, black tea, or green tea with herbal teas since these are naturally caffeine-free. However, there’s limited research on the effects of most herbal teas during pregnancy. While some like raspberry leaf, peppermint, and ginger are likely safe to drink while pregnant, most should be avoided. Talk with your healthcare provider if you’re considering herbal tea as a placeholder for your caffeinated beverage.

What happens if I have too much caffeine while pregnant?

The effects of high caffeine intake on pregnancy outcomes aren’t completely clear, so until we have more research, it’s still best to keep it under 200 mg per day. Keep in mind that caffeine usually takes longer to clear the body in pregnant women, so you may be even more sensitive to caffeine while pregnant. Side effects of too much caffeine include:

  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Short-term increase in blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Headaches

If you’re staying below 200 mg of caffeine and still experiencing some of these symptoms, it may be your cue to cut back a little bit more. Instead of reaching for a caffeinated beverage, try waking up with a stroll in the sunshine. Early morning sunlight can help boost serotonin and support healthy sleep patterns, and exercise can help improve your energy levels and fight fatigue.

If you need a little caffeine to help your morning personality shine, that’s usually fine! Just keep tabs on your caffeine intake and make sure you keep it below 200 mg per day. And remember, caffeine doesn’t replace quality sleep and relaxation. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself, mama!

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