Caffeine in pregnancy

Many women rely on caffeine to wake them up at the beginning of the day and to keep them going when energy levels are lagging mid-afternoon.

And lots of women enjoy cups of tea or coffee throughout the day, but during pregnancy, you need to keep an eye on how much caffeine you’re taking in.

200mg of caffeine per day is ideally the maximum amount you should consume to during pregnancy. 200mg is the amount of caffeine found in around 2 cups of instant coffee, so you should stick to around 2 cups per day – or less.

However, caffeine is found in much more than just coffee – tea, green tea, chocolate, some over-the-counter medications, cola and energy drinks all contain caffeine and so if you regularly include these foods in your diet you’ll need to count the caffeine levels in them too.

Take a look at the list below to work out your caffeine intake.

  • 1 cup of instant coffee = 100mg of caffeine
  • 1 cup of filter coffee = 140mg of caffeine
  • 1 cup of tea = 75mg of caffeine
  • 1 cup of green tea = 50mg of caffeine
  • 1 can of cola = 40mg of caffeine
  • 1 can of energy drink = 80mg of caffeine
  • 1 small bar of plain/dark chocolate = 50mg of caffeine
  • 1 small bar of milk chocolate = 25mg of caffeine

It’s also important to remember that caffeine content in the above foods and drinks will differ from outlet to outlet and from store to store. For example, an espresso will contain more caffeine than a cup of cappuccino, but an espresso from one outlet could contain far more caffeine than an espresso from another outlet. For example, one study showed that caffeine levels in an espresso can differ from as much as 50mg in one cup from one outlet to 300mg in one cup from another outlet.

If you take in more than 200mg of caffeine per day on a regular basis, you are at a higher risk of your baby having a low birth weight and miscarriage. Low birth weight can cause problems with your child’s health immediately after the birth and can also put them at risk of developmental problems after the birth and in the future.

One study has shown that mothers-to-be who regularly consume more than 200mg of caffeine per day are more than twice as likely to suffer a miscarriage as mothers-to-be who consume no caffeine. However, not all studies have shown the same correlation – but it is probably best to err on the side of caution and limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy.

There are also a few other risks associated with caffeine intake during pregnancy besides miscarriage. Caffeine directly causes your blood vessels to constrict, and because of this, it may reduce blood flow to the placenta. Anything you take in will also be passed onto your baby and so caffeine may directly affect your baby’s developing cells.

Other studies have shown a link between caffeine and stillbirth – women in Denmark who drank 8 cups of coffee per day or more were at more than double the risk of stillbirth than women who didn’t drink any coffee at all. Another study showed that women who drink or consume more than 300mg of caffeine per day are more likely to give birth to a baby boy with undescended testes.

Consuming more than 500mg of caffeine will also raise the mother’s heart rate and will raise breathing rates in the days following the birth. It can also cause the mother to be awake far more often and can cause problems with sleep and insomnia, which is not good for a new mother.

Aside from the problems that caffeine can cause with your baby and after the birth, it can also cause you to feel jittery and on edge. It is a stimulant and during the latter stages of pregnancy, you’ll find that the effects of caffeine are more pronounced than in the earlier stages of pregnancy and so even drinking a small amount of coffee or tea could cause you to feel jittery. Caffeine can also cause you to have more severe heartburn as it stimulates the secretion of stomach acid – and pregnant women are more likely to suffer from heartburn anyway, so this may be another factor in whether you decide to cut caffeine out of your diet or not.

Coffee and tea, aside from containing caffeine, also contain something called phenols. Phenols make it more difficult for your body to absorb iron and so drinking them may cause you to have low iron levels. If this is the case, you could increase your consumption of iron-rich foods, or your doctors may recommend that you take an iron supplement.

The general consensus is that if you stick to less than 200mg per day, even if you occasionally consume over 200mg per day, you and your baby will be perfectly healthy. However, you may decide to cut out caffeine completely. Whatever you decide, if you experience any abnormal symptoms after consuming caffeine make sure that you speak to your doctor.


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