There’s no shortage of pregnancy advice but when it comes from non-experts, it can be hard to tell what’s real.
You may know that there’s cautions to take surrounding caffeine and pregnancy (if you don’t read: Caffeine During Pregnancy: Your Complete Guide to Drinking It During All Trimesters). But is it true caffeine from food counts too? Does it really lead to problems, or is everyone just overblowing it?
In this post, we’re answering 13 myths and facts about caffeine and pregnancy.
Myth or Fact? 13 Pregnancy Caffeine Safety Questions
Here’s the most common facts and myths surrounding drinking caffeine and coffee during pregnancy.
#1 Myth or Fact: You Shouldn’t Drink Coffee During Pregnancy
If someone has told you that you shouldn’t drink caffeine during pregnancy, they’re only partially right. Although the safest option is to forgo it altogether, research shows that one cup a day is likely okay.
The reason you’re asked to limit your caffeine intake while expecting is because caffeine crosses the placenta and enters your baby’s bloodstream. Not every substance does this and many that do are safe. However, the challenge comes when a substance can cross the placenta and have unknown effects. While we have some research to suggest that higher amounts can impact the baby, more studies need to be done to fully understand why and the extent.
Some organizations, such as the March of Dimes, suggests keeping your limit to 200mg of caffeine per day, while others set the limit a bit higher at 300mg. Either way, that amounts to about one cup of coffee (depending on how it’s brewed).
#2 Myth or Fact: Caffeine Can Cause Complications
Likely Fact– in high amounts
The biggest reason pregnant women point to when asked why they’re not drinking coffee is to avoid complications. While sticking to one cup a day is unlikely to do harm, higher amounts can have consequences.
Let’s take a look at a few studies to get an idea.
A 2014 review of 13 studies summarized that higher caffeine intake was related to low birth weight risk. Another study showed that the risk of low birth weight increased as their intake did. Some research also shows that high levels could increase the risk of miscarriage. However, that was contradicted in a Korean study, which found that although caffeine was associated with bleeding, the miscarriage risk didn’t significantly increase.
So, while it’s true caffeine appears to heighten the risk of complications, we’re still not sure which ones or by how much.
#3 Myth or Fact: All Coffee is Created Equal
The easiest recommendation to tell a pregnant woman is to stick to one cup of coffee per day. But the truth is every cup of coffee is different in terms of how much caffeine it contains. That’s because the beans or grinds used and the way it’s brewed affects the caffeine content. What’s considered “one small cup” is also different. Not only do sizes vary across coffee chains, but the size of your coffee cup at come could be different too.
For example, a tall (small) Pike roast Starbucks coffee contains 235mg of caffeine. So, if you’re sticking to the 200mg/day guideline, even one cup sends you over your limit. Now, compare this to another chain, Tim Hortons, which only has about 140mg per small cup. You’d be below your limit with 60mg to spare.
Buying coffee to make at home is another consideration. Before you make or buy a brand, pay attention to the caffeine content. Make sure one cup will be below 200mg. If you want to drink two cups a day, choose a brand with a much lower caffeine content (perhaps decaf) that will allow you to do that.
#4 Myth or Fact: Pregnancy Makes Caffeine Metabolize Slower
One reason why caffeine may impact fetuses is that it stays in your body longer when you’re pregnant. In fact, pregnant women have a slower caffeine metabolism, with a 1.5 to 3.5 longer half-life than non-pregnant women. Half-life refers to the time it takes for the drug to decrease to half the starting dose. So, because it takes you longer than normal to eliminate caffeine, it has longer to potentially impact your baby.
#5 Myth or Fact: Decaffeinated Coffee is 100% Safe During Pregnancy
When giving up coffee, you may think you can guzzle back decaf instead. However, decaffeinated coffee still contains caffeine; just a smaller amount. So, while you can drink more decaf than you can regular coffee, you still need to pay attention to your limit since it can add up.
#6 Myth or Fact: Tea is Okay to Drink During Pregnancy
Fact– with limits
Similar to decaf coffee, it’s okay to drink most teas during pregnancy, as long as you’re paying attention to your limits.
While tea doesn’t generally have as much caffeine as coffee, the content varies by brand and can add up if you have a couple a day. Another thing you need to watch out for doesn’t have to do with caffeine at all. Some teas contain herbs that may be unsafe during pregnancy. For example, you should avoid brands with chamomile, juniper berries, buckthorn bark and more.
#7 Myth or Fact: Caffeine Can Have Long-Term Effects for a Child
It’s wild to imagine drinking a lot of coffee affects your child’s future as they grow up, but it may be possible. A 2019 study from The Netherlands suggested that high caffeine intake while expecting was associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) and total body fat in children.
Another 2020 study, this time done on mice, showed that caffeine triggered cardiometabolic defects on the rodents’ babies and the babies in future generations. While that sounds alarming, it’s unclear whether that effect is the same in humans. More research needs to be done on how prenatal caffeine exposure may impact children as they grow up.
#8 Myth or Fact: Caffeine in Other Products is Okay
While researchers aren’t exactly sure why coffee is associated with complications, most are confident it’s because of caffeine. Caffeine isn’t just found in teas, coffees and energy drinks though. It’s found in foods like coffee-flavored ice cream or chocolate. It’s also present in high amounts in soda drinks.
If you’re not sure which foods or drinks have caffeine, we recommend checking labels for a few weeks. This way, you’ll learn what common items in your diet you need to watch out for.
#9 Myth or Fact: Chicory is a Good Alternative to Coffee
When you search for alternatives to coffee, chicory coffee comes up because it shares many of the same flavors and texture as coffee. However, research shows that chicory root may trigger miscarriage and menstrual bleeding.
#10 Myth or Fact: There’s No Limits on Natural Caffeine Sources
If you’re trying to avoid coffee altogether or reduce your consumption, you may begin researching natural sources of caffeine. You still need an energetic boost and natural can’t be as bad as coffee, right? Wrong. Even caffeinated herbs, like guarana and yerba mate, count toward your daily caffeine limit. This doesn’t mean you need to stop drinking them, but you should be sure to factor it into your count each day.
#11 Myth or Fact: Coffee Has Negative Effects Unrelated to Pregnancy
Giving up coffee sucks if you’ve become addicted to it. Even cutting down to just one cup can make you feel withdrawals. To keep firm in your decision to cut back or quit, we recommend making a list of why less is better. Besides increasing your risk of complications, coffee has negative effects unrelated to pregnancy, such as:
- Sleep problems
- Anxiety/coffee jitters
- Digestion issues
- Caffeine addiction
- Heart rate increases
- Blood pressure increases
#12 Myth or Fact: If I Drink Extra Water, I Can Drink Coffee
Some people may think that drinking extra water will help “flush out” the coffee from their system, allowing them to drink more. Or, they may think that coffee poses a risk because it makes you dehydrated, so keeping hydrated gets rid of the issue.
The truth is that researchers don’t know why caffeine is associated with complications. While dehydration may be a factor, there’s many more to consider. For example, caffeine can cause spikes in blood pressure. As you may know, high blood pressure is the most common cause of pregnancy complications.
#13 Myth or Fact: I Should Track My Caffeine Intake
Tracking your caffeine intake is a good way to make sure you don’t go over your limit. While you may not do this every day in your pregnancy, it can be helpful at the beginning. If you’re not sure how much caffeine you’re consuming daily, it will give you an idea of how much you need to cut back and where your problem areas are.
Since most people don’t know the amount of caffeine in their food or drinks, start there by recognizing your most common sources. If the food doesn’t have a label, you can try Googling the product and brand name to find the caffeine content.
Every time you consume something with caffeine, you can simply write the milligrams into a note app on your phone. However, there’s apps made for this specific reason. Check out 5 Best Android Caffeine Intake Calculator Apps.
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