The Caffeine Conundrum: Is it OK to Drink Coffee While Pregnant?

There's general agreement that pregnant women and those trying to conceive should avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine. But after decades of controversy and conflicting evidence, there's still no real consensus on how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy.

The March of Dimes advises women to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, prompted by the results of a study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, showing that moms-to-be who consumed 200 mg or more of caffeine a day had double the risk of miscarriage compared to those who had no caffeine. Not all studies show a link between caffeine consumption and a higher risk of miscarriage. Still, it may be smart to err on the side of caution and stick to the recommendation.

One thing's for sure: You'll feel better if you cut back on caffeine. It's a stimulant, so it raises your heart rate and may raise your blood pressure slightly, too. Plus, it can make you feel jittery and cause insomnia. Caffeine can also contribute to heartburn (something you probably don't need help boosting!) by stimulating the secretion of stomach acid. These effects may be more pronounced or last longer than usual as you approach your due date, because your body breaks down caffeine more slowly as your pregnancy progresses. And that means a higher level of caffeine in your bloodstream and in your baby's.

There's one more reason to cut back on coffee and tea during your pregnancy, whether it's caffeinated or not. These beverages contain compounds called phenols that make it harder for your body to absorb iron. This is particularly important because many pregnant women, and especially women of color, are already low on iron. If you drink coffee or tea, have it between meals so it'll have less of an effect on your iron absorption.

Kicking the Coffee Habit:

  • You may find your taste buds doing the cutting back for you. Many women's fondness for a cup of joe evaporates during the first trimester when the queasies strike. Otherwise, consider switching to decaffeinated tea or coffee.
  • To minimize symptoms—which may include headaches, irritability, and lethargy—ease off gradually. Start mixing decaf with your caffeinated coffee. If you love a soothing cup of English Breakfast, steeping your tea bag for just one minute instead of five reduces the caffeine by as much as half.

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