Caffeine During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

Many people know and love the smell and taste of coffee; it was popular in ancient times and even more so in the present. A million bags of coffee are consumed every year, and research says that up to three cups per day can be consumed by the average person.

It is popular because of its addictive and energizing properties. The main ingredient that everyone longs for in a cup is caffeine. This compound makes everyone feel energized and always want more.

And, of course, even pregnant women love to consume coffee. But the question is, is it safe to consume during pregnancy?

coffee and pregnancy

Caffeine is dubbed as a natural stimulant. This molecule mainly affects our central nervous system —causing the body to be alert. It is present in coffee and can also be found in tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and some drugs. Typically, the liver metabolizes caffeine; however, a few factors and/or conditions can slow down its breakdown processes, like pregnancy and oral contraceptives.

As studies and theories mentioned, caffeine’s normal metabolism slows down during pregnancy, leading to the accumulation of the said molecule in the woman’s body. As evidenced in studies, its collection can pose risks for the developing fetus. It may affect the physical condition of the mother as well.

Why does the metabolism of caffeine slow down during pregnancy?

Based on a study in 2008, they mentioned that the half-life of caffeine increases during pregnancy. Half-life is a term used to describe the time it takes for the body to clear half of the substance. An increased half-life means an increased time is needed for the body to clear out a specific molecule. According to this study, caffeine reaches 11.5-18 hours before it can be cleared, compared to the usual 3 hours.

The first trimester is the most essential part of the pregnancy since it’s where the development begins. Here, the body and organ systems of the fetus develop. When the mother consumes caffeine during this time, there might be several effects on the fetus:

Caffeine can cross the placenta.
High doses of caffeine (>200mg/day) increases miscarriage.
Low birth weight, growth restriction, and cognitive development impairment
May cause birth defects
Increase the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia
Increased risk of bleeding in early pregnancy

Caffeine is a small molecule that can easily cross the placenta. The developing fetus inside does not have enzymes to break down the said molecule; it depends on the maternal system to clear it. We know how important it is for the body to break down specific molecules. Large ones like caffeine are not needed, especially in the case of the fetus. If the fetus cannot process the molecule, it can lead to adverse effects.

coffee first trimester

High doses of caffeine (>200mg/day) increases miscarriage.

Some studies show women who consume caffeine in their diet develop twice the risk for miscarriage compared to those who did not have caffeine. Caffeine increases catecholamines in the maternal system; these hormones are responsible for fighting stress; too much of these hormones can cause stress, leading to miscarriage.

Low birth weight, growth restriction, and cognitive development impairment

A study in 2008 showed that blood flow was reduced in the placenta after the consumption of 200mg of caffeine. A reduced blood flow could mean that the nutrients the blood carries (e.g., oxygen) cannot be supplied immediately to the needing fetus. This can be why the baby can be born with low birth weight, inadequate body growth, and brain problems.

Aside from the decreased blood flow, high caffeine levels also cause the fetus to have increased catecholamines, leading to increased heart rate. An increased heart rate impairs the fetus’ oxygenation. The fetus’s impaired oxygenation can cause it to grow slowly, as the lack of oxygen slows down its body processes.

May cause birth defects

As mentioned above, caffeine exposure can lead to adverse effects during the developmental stage. A few studies show that it can damage heart development, severely impacting the adult life stage, leading to cardiac problems in the future.

Increase the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Another study links the risk of this disease to the high consumption of caffeine during the prenatal stage. There are limited studies regarding this connection, but it was observed that the higher doses of coffee the mothers drank, the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia for the fetus also increases.

coffee during pregnancy third trimester

Increased risk of bleeding in early pregnancy

A study shows a significant increase for women who drank high doses of caffeine; they have an increased risk of bleeding during the early stages of pregnancy.

Additionally, high doses of caffeine cause problems during pregnancy, but it can also affect the conception period. In a study, female mice were exposed to high levels of caffeine. This led to implantation defects such as abnormal embryo development and implantation failure.

There are many risks associated with high doses of caffeine, and most of these affect the child’s development after birth. Some of them may even cause the death of the child, depending on the intake of coffee. All of these can be prevented by regulation of the coffee intake.

How will caffeine affect me?

Caffeine is like a drug; it has some side effects. Since the coffee increases the heart rate, it may cause nausea or lightheadedness. This is what we call palpitations —wherein the surroundings start to appear like a distorted television, along with loud and increased heartbeats.

Since pregnant women clear caffeine less than usual, they can be more sensitive to it, which means they may have trouble sleeping.

Can I still drink coffee?

According to Webster-Gandy (2020) in her book, pregnant women can consume coffee, but they need to limit their intake to <200mg/day. So, yes! It means that coffee can still be consumed during pregnancy, but they need to set limits.

As everyone always says —everything has limits. However, studies say that if caffeine can be avoided, it would be for the best.

What do experts say about the consumption of coffee/caffeine during pregnancy?

Dietitians do not recommend other caffeine-containing beverages such as energy drinks as they do not have much nutritional value. High amounts of caffeine and sugar are found in energy drinks. They may have substances that may be harmful to the fetus and the mother.

The World Health Organization or WHO recommends pregnant women lower their coffee intake (if it’s really unavoidable) to reduce the risks explained above. Other studies suggest replacing coffee with non-caffeinated drinks such as decaf coffee to lessen the exposure to caffeine.

An article interviewed five experts about their thoughts on adding caffeine to the diet during pregnancy. Four out of five said that coffee can be consumed but in moderation.

How can I lessen my caffeine intake?

Here are some tips to reduce some caffeine out of the diet:

Be aware of the labels. Nutrition facts are always listed on the product. Suppose by chance you purchased from a coffee shop without any tags. In that case, you can always check the general guide (like the one above) to estimate the amount.

Entice yourself to check out alternatives. There are other drinks out there that taste as good as coffee —and are more healthy. After all, it’s just for a few months. A little sacrifice won’t hurt.

Always think of your health first. Ask yourself these questions first. What is the purpose of your coffee? Do you really need it? Can you function well without it?

Narrow caffeine intake slowly. You might experience withdrawal if you suddenly cut back, especially if it’s one of the routine things you consume. This suggestion from Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital may be helpful:

Half regular coffee + half decaf
Consider instant coffee
Lessen brewing time of coffee

After which you can:

Consume decaf
Consider herbal tea
Replace it with other drinks (e.g., water or juice)

Swap the coffee for water. Some people advise that it’s healthier to drink water in the morning rather than coffee. It might help with avoiding the desire for coffee.

Remember B.E.A.N.S.

Reading all of these, you might be wondering if it’s still safe to drink a cup of coffee even during pregnancy. As theories and studies show, caffeine is still safe in pregnancy when the mother knows how to control her intake.

Conclusion

There you have it, our guide on coffee while pregnant. We hope we were able to help you with everything you need to know! Check out our guides on the best keurig coffee maker and best manual coffee grinders!

About Denise Opi

Hi, my name is Denise and I hail from Lille, France. I am a teacher by day, and a coffee lover by night! My family owns a coffee farm, and I am excited to share my journey with everyone!