Caffeine during pregnancy- Is it safe and how much?

caffeine

Whether it’s from coffee, soda, energy drinks, or chocolate, millions of Americans consume caffeine every day. There have long been concerns about the potential effects of caffeine on mothers and unborn children. Given these concerns, women are advised to avoid large amounts of caffeine when they are pregnant. Consuming a moderate amount of caffeine during pregnancy, however, is safe in most cases. Although conflicting information continues to emerge, this article provides some general information regarding pregnancy and caffeine.

The (potential) Dangers of Caffeine

Estimates suggest that between 75% and 93% of pregnant women consume caffeine on a daily basis (Kaiser & Allen, 2008). Given the prevalence of caffeine intake, it is no surprise that researchers have made a concerted effort to understand the potential effects of caffeine during pregnancy. The results of these studies have been mixed, but here are some potential dangers.

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your blood pressure and heart rate, which is unsafe during pregnancy (American Pregnancy Association, 2011). Consuming caffeine also leads to more frequent urination, which can cause you to lose important minerals (like calcium) that are vital to your baby’s development. Common caffeinated beverages, like coffee and tea, also contain ingredients that make it harder for your body to absorb iron. Caffeine may also cause heartburn and make it difficult to sleep.

Caffeine exposure during pregnancy has been associated with Spina bifida, a condition that occurs when a newborn’s spinal column doesn’t enfold the spinal cord (Schmidt et al., 2009). It has also been linked to increased irritability among newborns (Jacobson, 1984) and hyperactivity in 18 month-olds (Bekkhus et al., 2010). At least one study indicated that ingesting more than 200 milligrams of caffeine doubled the chance of having a miscarriage (Weng, Odouli, & Li, 2008), but other studies have not supported this finding (Savitz, 2008).

How much Caffeine can I have?

            There is little consensus regarding the amount of caffeine that is safe to consume during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association (2011) notes that experts’ recommendations generally suggest that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to between 150 to 300 milligrams per day. In many cases, this equates to one cup of coffee or can of soda (depending on the type and brand). Talk to your health care provider about his or her recommendation regarding caffeine.

Limiting Caffeine Intake

              Many food and beverages contain caffeine. In addition to coffee and soda, caffeine is commonly found in chocolate, tea, and energy drinks. Many herbal products and over-the-counter medications also include caffeine. The amount of caffeine in these products may vary considerably. For example, a single cup of coffee may contain between 95 and 330 milligrams of caffeine. It is important to check for caffeine by reading product labels carefully.

Reducing your caffeine intake will not be easy, especially if you consume large amounts on a regular basis. If possible, it is best to begin gradually limiting your caffeine before you conceive. Many people experience caffeine withdrawal, including headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Drinking lots of water, exercising, or taking medications approved by your health provider can help you manage these symptoms.

Although more research is needed, the best evidence suggests that it is safe to consume caffeine in moderation while you are pregnant. Use the information provided here and talk to your doctor about your caffeine intake.

References

American Pregnancy Association. (2011). What’s the Real Scoop on Caffeine During Pregnancy. Retrieved from: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/caffeine.html

Bekkhus, M., Skjøthaug, T., Nordhagen, R., & Borge, A. I. H. (2010). Intrauterine exposure to caffeine and inattention/overactivity in children. Acta Paediatrica, 99, 925–928.

Jacobson, S. W. (1984). Neonatal correlates of prenatal exposure to smoking, caffeine, and alcohol. Infant Behavior Development, 7, 253–265

Kaiser, L., & Allen, L. H. (2008). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108, 553–561.

Savitz, D.A., Chan, R.L., Herring, A.H., & Hartmann, K.E. (2008). Caffeine and miscarriage risk. Epidemiology, 19, 55-62.

Schmidt, R. J., Romitti, P. A., Burns, T. L., Browne, M. L., Druschel, C. M., & Olney, R. S. (2009). Maternal caffeine consumption and risk of neural tube defects. Birth Defects Research: Clinical and Molecular Teratology, 85, 879–889.

Weng, X., Odouli, R., & Li, D.K. (2008). Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: A prospective cohort study. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 198, e1-8.

Dr. Gareth Forde

About Dr. Gareth Forde

An obstetrician-gynecologist, a clinical professor, a researcher, and a father of five—and he delivered them all! He speaks and publishes extensively on maternal and child health issues, where he emphasizes the role of a healthy maternal lifestyle, good nutrition, and breastfeeding on infant development. He chose the field of obstetrics because it is a celebration of life, a happy and exciting profession. “Children are a blessing and they bring joy and laughter to the world,” he says. “I cherish my work, as a doctor and a dad.” The study of genetic imprinting is a major focus of both Dr. Forde’s research and medical practice. This looks at what happens in the womb, how the genes a baby inherits are expressed (turned on and off), and how this influences the child’s health after birth. “This field holds great promise, shedding light on many unsolved mysteries in health and disease from infancy to adulthood,” he adds. Dr. Forde grew up in London, England and Orlando, Florida. He received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School and is currently pursuing a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to this, he practiced with Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners, a consortium of Saint Mary’s Health Care, Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine—where he was a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. He also has a master’s in molecular and cellular biology from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University; a Ph.D. in environmental science (computational chemistry) from Jackson State University; and a post-doctoral fellowship in biophysics from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York.”