Pregnancy can feel pretty magical at times. I mean, your body is growing another human, NBD. But it can *also* feel pretty damn unfair when it forces you to give up your favorite things in the world (wine…sushi…cheese…) for nine months. Ugh.
A beloved beverage that plenty of pregnant women don’t want to give up but worry about? Coffee. That’s because there is a lot of conflicting information and science regarding whether caffeine (in general, not just in coffee) can negatively impact the health of the fetus.
So, we asked ob-gyns and a registered dietitian to help clarify whether mamas-to-be really need to completely give up their morning energy elixir (because let’s be honest, pregnancy can be seriously draining). The verdict, below.
Let’s start with your body: Caffeine can increase blood pressure and heart rate, says Women’s Health advisor Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob-gyn and founder of Her Viewpoint. For a woman who is not pregnant and is healthy overall, that’s fine and is part of why you feel so alert after a cup of coffee.
But the issue if you’re pregnant is that high blood pressure is a risk for low birth weight and has even been linked to early delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s more, caffeine can cross the placental barrier (the placenta is the organ that provides your baby with oxygen and nutrients), and it’s harder for a teeny, tiny growing fetus to metabolize the stimulant than it is for you to, says Amanda Baker Lemein, RD, a Chicago-based dietitian and WH advisor.
Caffeine is also a diuretic, says Dr. Shepherd, meaning it makes you pee more and, in turn, can dehydrate you. And last time we checked, pregnancy comes with enough bathroom breaks as is.
The general takeaway from the available research on caffeine consumption and pregnancy is that things get riskier the more you drink.
There is a lot of conflicting research out there, but the general scientific consensus is that consuming more than about 300 milligrams of caffeine daily may increase your risks of pregnancy loss and having a baby with a low birth weight, as the World Health Organization (WHO) concludes—due to those physiological effects that caffeine can have on the baby.
So the big thing to remember is that you just don’t want to drink cup-on-cup-on-cup of coffee. “There is a question of growth restriction in the fetus with lots of caffeine, but very little data,” explains Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, reproductive sciences at Yale University.
Moderate amounts of coffee are likely still safe for pregnant women, says Baker Lemein: “As a pregnant woman and RD, I have certainly not given up my daily cup of coffee and would be so sad to do so.”
What does a *moderate* amount actually look like? Keep coffee intake to about 8 ounces per day; this size generally contains less than 200 milligrams of caffeine. This piece of advice is also backed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG); the organization says that less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day “does not appear to be” a factor you need to worry about in regards to miscarriage or preterm birth, per a committee opinion.
Of course, other well-respected health organizations offer different recommendations (because nothing can ever be simple, huh?). The WHO, for example, says pregnant women should drink less than 300 milligrams day.
Don’t forget: Caffeine is in many other foods and drinks, too, including these ones:
This means you need to keep tabs on your overall caffeine intake—by adding up what you consume in total from all caffeinated beverages and snacks.
Ultimately, you should always speak with your ob-gyn about any caffeine concerns you have, or if you’re just unsure about whether or not what you typically consume daily is safe.
…take care of yourself naturally by prioritizing sleep and eating nutritiously (which, we know, might be super hard right now). “Although coffee is a stimulant and therefore helps keep you awake, the only real way to truly boost energy is through a balanced diet and proper sleep patterns,” explains Baker Lemein.
Eat enough throughout the day and go for energy-boosting foods (like oatmeal and strawberries, peanut butter and a banana, or hummus and cucumber slices), but without completely stuffing yourself to a brim. Overeating can also tire you out, pregnant or not, says Baker Lemein.
Finally, drink lots of water and get some exercise (but stick to workouts appropriate for pregnant ladies, per your doctor’s recs). Both will help up your energy levels, which just about *every* soon-to-be mom craves big time.
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