Caffeine and Pregnancy (and Breastfeeding)

Risks of caffeine consumption in pregnancy

If you’re planning to become pregnant or are already pregnant, you’re probably already taking prenatal vitamins and have started watching your diet. One item in your diet that you should think about is caffeine.

Caffeine is in a lot of products. Mention caffeine and the first thing most people think of is coffee, but it is also found naturally in green and black tea (including iced teas); chocolate and cocoa; colas and other sodas; some pain relievers; and energy drinks.

Caffeine and Pregnancy
Caffeine is known to cross through the placenta from your bloodstream to that of your baby. Some studies several years ago linked too much caffeine to an increased risk of miscarriage, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says moderate caffeine intake, less than 200 milligrams per day, does not appear to raise this risk.

So how much caffeine is that? Bear in mind that the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea or coffee varies a bit depending on the type, how it is roasted, and how it was brewed.  But if you drink two large coffees (12 ounces each) a day, you are probably getting between 280 and 500 milligrams of caffeine. If you drink one venti cup (20 ounces) of Starbucks coffee, you are taking in more than 400 milligrams of caffeine. A little bottle of 5-Hour Energy contains 200 milligrams of caffeine. A cup of tea has between 35 and 45 milligrams of caffeine. A can of Coca-Cola has about 34 milligrams. Decaffeinated coffee has a few milligrams of caffeine per cup. Chocolate bars and coffee ice cream contain some caffeine, too.

Caffeine and Breastfeeding
As with pregnancy, caffeine in moderation is safe during breastfeeding. About 1% of the caffeine you take in will pass on through to your breast milk, after a delay of a couple of hours. However, two cups of coffee per day or the caffeine equivalent should be fine.

Remember that one of the effects of caffeine is that it keeps you awake. Some babies are more sensitive to caffeine than others. If either you or your baby have any sleep issues, cut back on the caffeine.

Cutting Back on Caffeine
If you drink lots of coffee or tea, cutting back before or during your pregnancy is the sensible thing to do. But if you cut out caffeine cold turkey, be prepared to feel lousy for several days and probably have one nasty headache from withdrawal. It will be easier for you to cut back caffeine gradually, over the course of a week or two. Start drinking decaffeinated coffee or caffeine-free drinks after 3 p.m. the first three or four days. Then cut off caffeine in the afternoon for a few days. You should be able to get down to 200 milligrams of caffeine a day in reasonable comfort.

Some other ideas: Switch to half-caf coffee. Most coffee shops will make a cup for you with half-caffeinated and half-decaffeinated coffee. There are half-caf brands of ground coffee on the market, too. Just keep under 200 milligrams a day. Or switch to tea, which has less than half the caffeine of coffee.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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