Caffeine During Pregnancy: How Much Is Too Much?

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2503962687_790f10c75c_zDo you like to wake up to a nice, hot cup of coffee? You’re not alone – more than 80% of Americans drink coffee. That caffeine boost helps us get up and out the door and helps keep us running during the day. However, your diet may have to change when you get pregnant. You know you’ll have to avoid alcohol, but what about caffeine during pregnancy?

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a chemical that acts as a stimulant – it gives us a boost of energy. It’s the most popular psychoactive drug in the world. It’s a naturally-occurring substance found in dozens of different types of plants. It is believed to work by blocking the absorption of adenosine, a molecule that causes you to feel sleepy. It causes your nervous system to speed up, rather than slow down as it would if it had absorbed adenosine, meaning you feel awake and alert.

If you consume a lot of caffeine, your body will compensate by developing more adenosine receptors. That means you won’t get as much of an effect from the caffeine and you may have to consume more to feel awake. By the same token, withdrawal from caffeine can leave you feeling tired and irritable because your nervous system will absorb too much adenosine until your body can reabsorb the extra receptors.

Effects Of Caffeine

As described above, caffeine binds to your nervous system and makes it speed up so you feel awake. The other effects of caffeine include increased heart rate, irregular heart rhythms, headaches, nervousness, and trouble sleeping. It may also increase anxiety. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it causes you to urinate more frequently. This can lead to dehydration. Because of its effects on your nervous system, it may make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. It may increase the amount of acid in your stomach, causing heartburn.

Coffee During Pregnancy

So, can you have your morning cup of coffee during pregnancy? Caffeine can increase your heart rate or cause irregular heart rhytms, which can both potentially cause problems during pregnancy. It can also pass through the placenta to your baby, which can affect your little one’s heart rate and ability to sleep. Some studies have also linked caffeine to an increased risk of birth defects and miscarriage.

Caffeine And Birth Defects

Animal studies have shown that very high levels of caffeine intake during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects. However, the levels have to be really high – higher than you can reasonably consume in your food and beverages. Studies on humans have not found any particular link between moderate levels of caffeine and birth defects. However, caffeine may increase the risk of birth defects when combined with alcohol or tobacco beyond what the tobacco or alcohol alone might cause. In other words, the evidence suggests that moderate caffeine intake does not cause an increase in the risk of birth defects.

Caffeine And Miscarriage

The link between caffeine and miscarriage is far from clear. One major study found that drinking caffeine more than doubled the risk of miscarriage while another major study found that it had no effect at all on the risk of miscarriage. Unfortunately, we just don’t have enough information to determine whether caffeine increases the risk of miscarriage. Experts currently recommend keeping your intake under 200 mg of caffeine per day to minimize any potential risk.

How much caffeine is safe during pregnancy?

So, there’s some evidence that caffeine may be problematic during pregnancy and some evidence that it’s harmless. How much caffeine is safe during pregnancy? The answer is that we just don’t know. However, most experts suggest that moderate caffeine intake (one or two caffeinated beverages per day) should be safe for you and your little one. Work with your doctor to decide if caffeine is right for you during pregnancy and remember that it’s always okay to err on the side of safety.

Keep in mind that caffeine can exacerbate other health concerns, such as an irregular heart rhythm or high blood pressure. These conditions may have a serious effect on your pregnancy, so you should work with your doctor to determine whether caffeine is safe for you in your unique circumstances.

What Has Caffeine In It?

If you’re trying to moderate your caffeine intake because of pregnancy or any other reason, you need to know what has caffeine in it. Coffee is a good place to start; many of us drink several cups of coffee every day. In fact, Americans drink an average of just over 2 cups per day.  You may choose to switch to decaf, but remember that even decaf coffee isn’t totally caffeine-free (although it does have significantly less caffeine than regular coffee). Soda and tea may also contain caffeine.

Energy drinks have grown in popularity over the past decade, and they obviously contain caffeine. However, they may also contain a variety of other stimulants that may or may not affect the development of your little one. You should consult your doctor about whether the ingredients of a particular energy drink are safe for you and the baby.

Chocolate is another source of caffeine. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it contains. Chocolate and coffee-flavored snacks such as ice cream may also contain caffeine.

Pain relievers may contain caffeine, too. For example, two Excedrin have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Pain relievers may affect your pregnancy in other ways, so you should consult your doctor about what pain relievers are safe.

Finally, a variety of “energizing” snacks currently on the market contain caffeine. These range from breath mints to oatmeal to sunflower seeds and some of them contain large amounts of stimulants. When you’re checking the label, keep an eye out for guarana. It’s a South American plant commonly used in food and drinks for its caffeine content. In general, watch out for any products that specifically tout their energizing properties; many contain caffeine and other stimulants.

Moderation Is Key

Pregnancy can feel like a minefield of dangerous foods, drugs, and drinks. The good news is that your morning cup of joe is probably just fine. As always, you should consult your doctor about what’s right for you and your pregnancy.


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