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Caffeine and Pregnancy

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It’s the ultimate Catch-22: The first trimester of pregnancy makes you more exhausted than that last ultramarathon you ran, and yet this is the exact time you’re supposed to give up caffeine! How can you make it through your 8 a.m. meeting with the boss without the usual double-shot espresso (chocolate biscotti on the side)?

The good news is that espresso actually contains less caffeine than regular coffee (about 40 mg in a 1-ounce pour vs. 135 in an 8-ounce cup). The bad news is that even “decaf” versions still do contain caffeine.

A 2006 report in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found that “decaffeinated” coffee drinks sometimes contained the same amount as or more caffeine than some caffeinated beverages purchased at the same café. Consuming several “decaffeinated” drinks can actually feed you more caffeine than drinking a single cup of regular coffee!

The March of Dimes recommends a maximum of 200 mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy or the period leading up to pregnancy. Eight ounces of Häagen Dazs coffee ice cream contains 58 mg of caffeine, in case you were wondering! A single 12-ounce cup of coffee each morning is probably okay. But keep in mind that caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate, some soft drinks and many over-the-counter medications as well.

Caffeine is not listed on nutritional charts. A little research may be warranted if you are concerned about overdoing it. Medication labels, on the other hand, are required to list their caffeine content. Many pain relief tablets contain 65 mg of caffeine. Be aware that herbal products are not required to list caffeine content on their labels.

While the effects of caffeine on a fetus are uncertain, some studies have suggested fertility problems and miscarriages as results of high caffeine intake. Caffeine permeates the placenta and reaches the fetus. Without conclusive evidence about caffeine’s effects on the fetus, it is probably wise to steer clear as much as possible during pregnancy.

Pregnant women also may experience stronger effects from caffeine than they did before pregnancy. This is because a pregnant body takes longer to eliminate caffeine from the system.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes caffeine consumption is safe for breastfeeding mothers. Some caffeine does find its way into breast milk, however, and therefore should be limited. Breastfed babies whose mothers drank more than a few cups of coffee a day have been reported to show irritability and difficulty sleeping.

While it may be hard to give up your caffeine habit, finding other ways to energize during pregnancy may be the safest choice. Try moderate exercise, drinking lots of water and, if possible, getting some extra sleep whenever you can. Once the first trimester passes, most women find that their energy levels return, and the excitement of your growing baby can create an adrenaline rush better than any double espresso!


Kovacs, Betty, MS, RD. “Caffeine.” MedicineNet.com. Web. 31 Aug. 2011. http://www.medicinenet.com/caffeine/article.htm

McCusker, Rachel R. et al. "Technical Note: Caffeine Content of Decaffeinated Coffee | Journal of Analytical Toxicology." Journal of Analytical Toxicology. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

"Caffeine in pregnancy | Pregnancy | March of Dimes." Pregnancy, Baby, Prematurity, Birth Defects | March of Dimes. Web. 1 Sept. 2011. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/nutrition_caffeine.html.

Reviewed September 1, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Malu Banuelos

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I also heard that you have to be careful how your decaf is made, and make sure they soak their beans instead of using harmful chemicals to get the caffeine out. I think it's funny how they say you should get some exercise to get some energy, but the least thing you want to do is exercise when you have no energy. Walking down the street is a task, I can't even think of exercising:)

September 7, 2011 - 10:51am
(reply to Anonymous)

Yes, that's the other Catch-22; when you're tired it's hard to get motivated to exercise. But if there's anything I've learned from 6 years of parenting young children (and those pregnancies...!), I know that if I can force myself out of the house for a quick walk or short run I'm always amazed by how much more energized I feel. Prenatal yoga was also fabulous, because it was both relaxing and energizing. Believe me, when I was 8 months pregnant and chasing around a very active 21-month-old, many days I wished I could lie on the couch and take a nap. But getting out and exercising a bit, especially in fresh air, worked wonders. Kicking in the endorphins creates energy you may not have imagined could be hiding deep inside your tired body. Don't completely discount the advice -- it comes from years of first-hand experience!

September 7, 2011 - 5:03pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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