PREGNANCY

Coffee When Pregnant: Is Caffeine Safe?

January 20, 2023

written by: Lo Mansfield, MSN, RN

I’m Lo.
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Raise your hand if you feel like there are so many rules when you become pregnant? Rules on how to sleep, how to advocate, how to exercise, how to eat, how to care for our bodies, and how to care for our skin. If you choose to breastfeed or pump, the rules continue postpartum, as your body works hard to make the milk to nourish your little one. And for many in the middle of all of these are the questions: “can I drink coffee when I’m pregnant?” and “is caffeine safe when I’m pregnant?”

I understand how annoying the rules can be, how frustrating it might feel to constantly have “right” numbers and values thrown at you. But the nurse side of my brain also appreciates the science behind these numbers, especially evidence-based rules and practices that I do believe exist for your good and the good of your little one.

What is caffeine?

Instead of talking only about coffee when pregnant, we’re going to pan out to caffeine when pregnant. Though coffee is a fan-favorite of many, caffeine sneaks into our diet in a lot of different ways. Caffeine is a stimulant that is found in many different foods and drinks, including coffee, tea, chocolate, and some medications. Many actively choose caffeine for its “pick me up” qualities, hoping for a rush of energy after consuming it. In general, it is considered safe for most people to consume caffeine.

Is caffeine safe for pregnancy?

Yep! At this time, most experts agree that low to moderate caffeine intake is considered safe for most who are pregnant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendation is < 200 mg/day. You may see different guidelines from other experts, but in general, most recommendations will fall between 150-300 mg/day.

What are the risks of caffeine during pregnancy for baby?

One of the concerns with caffeine during pregnancy is that it can cross the placenta and reach the developing baby. Some (inconclusive) research has shown that taking in more than 200 mg of caffeine per day may increase the risk of miscarriage. There is also some research that shows that consuming more than moderate amounts of caffeine could lead to slightly lower birthweights. You may also hear that there is a connection between caffeine consumption and preterm birth, but no association between the two has been shown. Here is ACOG’s statement:

“The relationship of caffeine to growth restriction remains undetermined. A final conclusion cannot be made at this time as to whether there is a correlation between high caffeine intake and miscarriage.”

What are the risks of caffeine during pregnancy for me?

You may find that caffeine has no impact on you while pregnant. This may be more true if you are already a regular consumer of it. Here are a few ways a cup of coffee or tea could impact you:

  • Laxative effects: Sometimes, coffee makes you poop! You could be running to the bathroom after drinking a cup. (To be honest, I wouldn’t mind that side effect to combat the pregnancy constipation!).
  • Dehydration: Caffeine can cause dehydration. If you choose to drink caffeine through your pregnancy, don’t forget to take in adequate amounts of water too!
  • Heartburn: Some find that drinking coffee makes their pregnancy heartburn worse. You may also note shakes or jitters, especially if your blood sugars run low during pregnancy.
  • Iron absorption: Though not common, too much caffeine can mess with your body’s ability to absorb iron. If your iron is already low or you have anemia, you may want to chat with your provider about your caffeine intake.

Can I drink coffee when pregnant?

You can! Based on the recommendation of <200 mg a day, you’ll just want to consider what you are drinking and how much caffeine is in it. A 12 ounce cup of coffee is about 200 mg. Tea and energy drink usually have less caffeine per ounce, so check out those labels if they are your caffeine of choice. The chart below shares some caffeine estimates, pulled from the brands’ nutritional information.

ProductSizeCaffeine (mg)
Starbucks Pike Place Brewed8 oz155 mg
Starbucks Caffe Americano12 oz75 mg
Starbucks Caffe Latte12 oz75 mg
Chai Tea Latte12 oz70 mg
Earl Grey Tea (one bag)12 oz40 mg
Nespresso1 pod55-125 mg
Folger’s Ground Coffee1 Tbsp60-80 mg
Starbucks hot chocolate16 oz25 mg
Diet Coke20 oz91 mg
Pepsi20 oz63 mg
Coca-Cola16 oz45 mg
Rockstar Energy16 oz160 mg
Monster Energy16 oz160 mg
Dark Chocolate (candy)1 oz12 mg

Do I have to stop drinking coffee if I’m pregnant?

This choice is entirely yours. Some who drink more than the moderate recommendation choose to cut back. Others cut it out entirely. And others continue to consume as they normally do until conclusive evidence says otherwise. If you want to cut back, here are a couple of tips and swaps:

  • Switch to lattes: Cut the amount of coffee in half and fill up with the foamed milk instead.
  • Sneak in decaf: Start doing half-caff options. Baristas can do this at most shops and you can do it at home by mixing decaf and caff together. Slowly increase the ration of decaf to caff until you are fully on decaf coffee!
  • Switch from 1 big cup to 2 small ones: This switch can then allow you to drop one of the small cups. You still get your rhythm and routine, but you’re also (eventually) cutting a bit if that’s your goal.

If you are cutting back, avoid going cold turkey! This can make you feel pretty badly, and it’ll be that much harder to walk away (or want to). The slow wean or transition is much easier on the body. Also, as you make these changes, don’t forget the “eat small frequent meals” advice. This is actually a really good way to supply your body with energy, especially if caffeine was providing you some of that.

The takeway on caffeine and coffee when pregnant

In small to moderate amounts, experts agree that caffeine remains safe for pregnancy. The current recommendation is <200 mg/day (which is about one 12-ounce cup of coffee). Caffeine can hide in many different foods and drinks, so pay attention to what you eat and drink throughout the day. If you would like to cut back, consider doing it gradually so your body handles the change a little bit better.

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About the Author

Lo Mansfield MSN, RNC-OB, is a specialty-certified registered nurse in obstetrics, postpartum, and fetal monitoring who is passionate about families understanding their integral role in their own stories. She is the owner of The Labor Mama and creator of the Your Body, Your Birth courses. She is also a mama of three, a University of Washington graduate (Go Dawgs), and is currently an expat in Haarlem, Netherlands. 

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