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Caffeine during pregnancy: what you need to know

Since a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi stumbled upon a fruit whose broth gave him lots of energy and terrible breath, people have been using coffee and its caffeine to wake them up in the morning, and keep them focused throughout the day.

We’ve since discovered caffeine’s naturally occurring presence in tea, chocolate, and Red Bull (or not so natural), and people have been quick to jump to all sorts of different sources for their energy. Unfortunately, the chemical processes by which caffeine gives you that boost are not super healthy for you or Baby while you’re pregnant.

How can caffeine hurt you?

Even though caffeine seems to naturally give you a bunch of energy, the chemical processes it uses to do so are not so great for you while you’re pregnant. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it’ll increase the frequency with which you need to pee, which is usually already elevated during pregnancy. This can lead to dehydration.

Caffeine is most often used as a stimulant to help get you up in the morning, however this can make getting precious sleep more difficult. Like other stimulants, caffeine raises both the heart rate and blood pressure, which can put you in serious harm during pregnancy. High blood pressure during pregnancy is associated with the dangerous complication preeclampsia, while an elevated heart rate can be dangerous for both you and your baby overall.

How can caffeine hurt Baby?

Baby totally depends on you for vitamins and nutrients while you’re pregnant, and he tends to eat, drink or breathe whatever you have. Babies have more trouble processing caffeine than adults, so it can affect them very seriously.

Research is still inconclusive about caffeine’s effects on developing babies, but some seems to suggest that babies of women who drink excess caffeine while pregnant may be at an elevated risk for low birth-weight, birth defects, and miscarriage.

What’s the verdict?

Drinking a limited amount of caffeine a day (under 200 mg, or about one or two small cups of coffee) will probably not result in any developmental disorders or miscarriage, but all women are different, and so are all babies. Women who want to completely eliminate any threat posed by caffeine can abstain, though simply limiting the caffeine intake should be enough to mitigate any risk. And always be sure to check the amount of caffeine in any coffee, tea, or soda, because the amounts can vary quite a bit. And, of course, check in with your healthcare provider for more guidance. 

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • J Cade. “Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restriction: a large prospective observational study.” British Medical Journal. 2008;337:a2332. Web. 11/3/2008.
  • “Modetate Caffeine Consumption During Pregnancy: Committee Opinion Number 462.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 8/10/2015. Web.
  • “Caffeine in pregnancy.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, 6/12/2015. Web.
  • “Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy: FAQ034.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/14/2015. Web.
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