We want to do what’s best for our growing baby inside of us. Once we get that positive pregnancy result, we clean up every bit of our lives to be sure our babies have the healthiest start possible. And so many of us wonder: is it safe to drink coffee while pregnant?
I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’ve seen the love, devotion, and urgency many mamas have around their morning Joe. We can give up a lot when we’re pregnant, but please don’t touch our caffeine!
Let’s look at the research around caffeine and coffee while pregnant, what a midwife has to say, and how other natural mamas in our community have handled it.
The research on pregnancy and caffeine
Unlike the research on chocolate during pregnancy, the evidence is conflicting around drinking coffee while pregnant.
The New England Journal of Medicine conducted a study with 562 women who miscarried at 6-12 weeks. The researchers found that more than 5 cups of coffee increased the mom’s risk of miscarriage (1). Now, keep in mind, that’s a lot of coffee, probably more than most people consume, and certainly not advised for a pregnant mama. (There was also a 2001 study that showed that consuming more than 300 mg of coffee while pregnant doubled a woman’s risk for miscarriage in first trimester (2).)
Up until 2008, the general consensus was a few cups of coffee was fine during pregnancy. Then, a study led by Dr. De-Kun Li from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research told a different story. This study was unique because for the first time, early pregnancy symptoms like nausea, which often lead to a natural caffeine aversion, were taken into account so that researchers could determine the true effect of caffeine on miscarriage risk.
Looking at over 1,000 pregnant women, the study determined that “women who consumed 200 mg or more of caffeine (in any form) per day had twice the miscarriage risk as women who consumed no caffeine.” (3) To put this into perspective, 200mg of caffeine is the equivalent of more than two cups of most coffees, or five 12-ounce cans of soda.
Other potential risk factors for miscarriages were collected as well such as maternal age, smoking, alcohol consumption, hot tub use, and even exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy.
This study caused the March of Dimes to change their recommendations to consuming less than 200 mg of caffeine a day.
To counter this, another mega study compared 17 epidemiological studies on the fetal effects of caffeine consumption and found no causal association between caffeine intake of 300 mg or less and birth outcome. They dismissed Dr. De-Kun Li’s study because some of the reported miscarriages were just confirmed through maternal interview rather than from medical records. (4)
Coffee while pregnant: What’s a mama to do?
Well, caffeine is a drug and it will cross the placenta. It can limit blood flow to the placenta, as well as increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It also puts additional strain on the liver, which is already busy processing the increased hormonal demands related to pregnancy.
There are enough studies out there that show dangers with consumption of 300mg, from miscarriages to lower birth weights, so it would be wise to stick below this amount.
Better yet, stay below 200 mg of caffeine per day (e.g. less than two cups of coffee).
Or skip the coffee all together, especially in the first trimester when miscarriage is more likely. (5)
How do YOU react to caffeine?
As with everything, coffee while pregnant is really a personal decision based on your experiences with caffeine and a discussion with your healthcare provider. Some people, myself included, get jittery and wound up from just one cup. Other people can slam a venti double shot right before bed and sleep like a baby.
If caffeine made you anxious from before you became pregnant, it’s best to stay away from it. If you handle it well pre-pregnancy, you are probably fine having a cup with your morning meal.
Listen to your body
Some mamas may have to reduce or eliminate their intake of caffeine and coffee while pregnant based on their symptoms. Heart palpitations, anxiety, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excessive sweating and shakiness are good indications that you should dial the caffeine way back or get rid of it completely.
The most important thing is to listen to your body.
Keep in mind that there are some delicious herbal brews (check my recipe for dandelion root detox tea here) that taste similar to coffee, or you can try a decaffeinated coffee that uses the Swiss water method.
A midwife’s perspective on drinking coffee while pregnant
Meghanne Reburn RM recommends that coffee drinkers err on the side of caution and consume no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. She states “I’d like to think that the body’s wisdom tells us that perhaps a little bit is okay, but too much isn’t safe.” (6) Her recommendation is to switch to bulletproof coffee because of the extra fat, lower toxic load, and the energy it can provide. Meghanne also advises not to drink your morning coffee before going for a glucose screening, as it can produce a false positive on the test.
Here’s what other natural mamas have to say about consuming caffeine when pregnant
I asked the moms on my Facebook page if they drank coffee while pregnant or changed their habits in any way, and over 600 moms chimed in!!! Talk about a hot topic. Here is a sample of their responses.
- Before pregnancy, I drank an average of two cups of coffee a day. While pregnant, I cut all caffeine out of my diet. I didn’t even have decaf coffee, tea, sodas, even chocolate. After reading a number of studies pointing toward adverse effects for children as a result of caffeine exposure in utero, I figured better safe than sorry. – Ashley F.
- I’m currently pregnant with my third. I cut back on coffee with my first two. One cup in the am. With this one I’m less strict. I have one or two cups in the morning and an occasional 1/2 caf. In the afternoon depending on how I feel. So far this has been a good pregnancy. I’m 38 weeks gained the recommended 25 pounds and my bp is 120/60. We shall see. If the baby comes out with three heads I’ll blame it on the coffee. – Rebecca C.D.
- I never drank coffee regularly until I had 2 kids. I drank none with my first pregnancy and had maybe 5 total with my second, for those really sluggish mornings. As a holistic nutritionist who specializes in paediatrics and pregnancy, I don’t believe it is a problem to have 1 cup a day, unless you’re experiencing adrenal issues/stress then I’d avoid 100%. Also drinking organic while pregnant with organic cream and no sugar is very important. – Leigh M.
- Decaffeinated coffee is more toxic than caffeine due to the chemical decaffeination process. So I sipped on a cup of regular coffee everyday. – Sheena R.
- For all my three pregnancies I despised coffee like the plague for the the first and second trimester (the time when caffeine has been linked to slight increased risk of miscarriage – so my body was working with me. Also only felt like eating super clean). With my Third I was able to drink One cup In the morning and One In the afternoon in my third trimester – felt perfectly comfortable and safe doing that. Had a healthy 8lb baby delivered naturally. Of course I’m from Europe where recommendations are decrease caffeine but up to three cups of coffee a day during pregnancy is fine!!! The US guidelines seem very strict. – Ann C.E.
- I couldn’t! I am a coffee lover through and through, but with both my pregnancies, by 6 weeks, the smell of coffee made me totally sick. I couldn’t even walk by a Starbucks. My hubby made coffee for himself in the boot room and then eventually switched to tea for pregnancy number 1. For number 2, we were living on the in-laws property at the time so he walked over to their kitchen each morning for his coffee while I hung my head over the porcelain throne each day. 🙂 The day after I delivered, I could tolerate the smell and have a cup again. Weird, but I guess its just something my body did not want while pregnant. – The Natural Wolf
- Tried to limit it to 1 cup of organic coffee per day at the most, towards the end did more like a cup of coffee twice a week. Did it bullet proof style with grass fed butter and virgin coconut oil to help get in extra high quality fats (especially on days when my diet didn’t include enough.) My comfort zone for doing so was based off studies done in south american countries where coffee consumption is considered normal culturally. Do not feel like it adversely affected me or our babies. – Stephanie W.T.
- With my last pregnancy, I only very occasionally had it, after my first tri had passed. I did have it in my previous two pregnancies a bit more, but after I miscarried my second pregnancy and read some scientific research possibly linking caffeine with an increased risk in miscarriage, I just couldn’t allow myself to drink it all willy nilly. I felt like I owed it to my baby AND myself to cut back so that there wouldn’t be any guilt or blame in that aspect if something went wrong in any future pregnancies. – Cassaundra R.
- My most colicky, fidgety, cranky, worst-sleeping baby was the one with whom I cut out all caffeine. With baby #3 I kept on drinking it and he was the most mellow!! – Kiva S.
- I’m a huge fan of coffee and just had my first child this last June. I had an aversion to coffee before I knew I was pregnant. It didn’t taste as good as it usually did. So just knew something was up! and I found out I was pregnant with my little girl. I immediately stopped drinking it and started looking for a good decaf coffee. – Kaila L.R.
How About You?
Did you drink coffee while pregnant? Did you give it up? Or change your habits? Share your experience in the comments below!
1 – http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199911253412202
2 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14629312
3 – http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(07)02025-X/fulltext
4 – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bdrb.20288/full#bib122
5 – http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/caffeine-during-pregnancy/
6 – http://cavegirlplusone.com/blog/2013/9/8/part-2-caffeine-coffee-and-tea-during-your-paleo-pregnancy