Can Caffeine and Pregnancy Co-Exist?

Everyone has seen the warnings about drinking alcohol during pregnancy, but what about drinking caffeine and pregnancy? Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant drug, and it does cross the placenta, so any caffeine a pregnant woman consumes does make its way to fetus.  What research has not adequately shown is whether or not caffeine harms a developing baby.

The consensus about caffeine and pregnancy seems to be that a daily ritual of two or three 8 oz cups of drip coffee (300 mgs of caffeine) in the morning won’t cause any harm.  This brings up the question, who drinks an 8oz cup of drip coffee these days?  An 8 oz size is rarely on the menu for coffee shops, where a 12 oz cup is small and a 16 oz cup is standard.  One shot of espresso has about 100 mg of caffeine.  According to the manager at my local Starbucks, a 16 oz Americano has three shots.  So one Starbucks Americano puts a woman at the limit.  That means no additional soda, tea, or even chocolate.

Some research by the March of Dimes has appeared to indicate that more than 300 mgs of caffeine may increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, and low birth weight.  The information to date about caffeine and pregnancy is persuasive, but not conclusive.  Other studies have shown that babies whose mothers consumed more than 500 mg of caffeine a day had faster heart rates and breathing rates than babies whose mom’s avoided caffeine.  The scariest studies are those that show a link between caffeine and diminished intelligence.  Fortunately those studies have only been conducted on rats and monkeys.  In some areas there is a correlation between animal studies and human effects, in others areas animals and humans react totally differently.  At the present, there isn’t a clear indication which way this one will go.

Will caffeine harm your baby?  Maybe not, but caffeine and pregnancy doesn’t appear to be a risk worth taking, since caffeine isn’t going to help you during your pregnancy either.  Pregnant women need to get adequate rest, including good sleep.  Caffeine’s stimulant effect raises the heart rate and can induce insomnia.  It also has a diuretic effect.  Pregnant women have a greater risk of dehydration than other women, so drinking coffee may be making a bad situation that much worse.  The further along in pregnancy a woman is, the slower her body metabolizes caffeine.  Having it remain in the body longer, means its ill effects may be magnified.