Caffeine in pregnancy and lactation

Why should you avoid caffeine during pregnancy and lactation?

The refreshing aroma of coffee or tea is one of the first things that wake us up in the morning. It’s also because caffeine in one of the most popularly consumed stimulants, found not only in tea and coffee, but also in a variety of beverages (like chocolate, soft and energy drinks) as well as medicines. However, if you are pregnant, you should be careful about your caffeine intake since excessive caffeine (more than 2-3 cups per day) has been associated with increased risk of pregnancy complications.

If you are a caffeine lover and pregnant, this read is a must.

Caffeine and its effects on mother and child

  • Caffeine increases heart rate and blood pressure. Both of these effects can be harmful to a pregnant woman.
  • During early pregnancy, caffeine acts as a diuretic and increases the frequency with which the expectant mother needs to urinate. This can reduce fluid levels in the body and cause dehydration. It also releases acid in the stomach that can lead to indigestion and chest burn.
  • Remember that caffeine can reach your baby via the placenta. Thus, the stimulant effects of caffeine can affect both the mother and the foetus. This can cause irregularities in the baby’s movements and sleep pattern. Such changes are noticeable especially during the later stages of pregnancy. While the mother may be able to metabolise caffeine, the baby cannot. This can cause the baby’s breathing rate and heart rate to shoot up.
  • While there have been no conclusive studies on the effects of too much caffeine on pregnancy in humans, studies conducted on animals have suggested that caffeine may be related to premature labour, birth defects, low-birth weight, and reproductive issues such as infertility.
  • After childbirth too, the coffee a mother drinks makes its way to the breast milk. The amount of caffeine in breast milk usually peaks an hour after consuming coffee. This can make the baby jittery and fussy. It may also make it difficult for them to sleep for long.

So, is caffeine safe during pregnancy?

It is not necessary for a woman to completely stop consuming all forms of caffeine during the second trimester or third trimester. A moderate level of caffeine does not have a negative effect on pregnancy. Here, a moderate level ranges between 150-300 mg of caffeine per day. Two cups of coffee contain almost 300 mg of caffeine. This is equivalent to the amount of caffeine in 3 cups of black tea. 

If you choose to drink coffee, you must stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to minimise the effect of caffeine during pregnancy. However, it would be better if you can avoid it altogether.

According to some studies, consuming more than 800 mg of caffeine per day along with consuming alcohol and smoking can increase the risk of a miscarriage.

Where is caffeine found?

Coffee is the most well-known source of caffeine. Every type of coffee has a different amount of caffeine and it changes depending on the brand. The way you prepare your coffee also influences caffeine levels. For example, 1 oz of espresso has 47-64 mg caffeine, while an 8 oz latte has 63-126 mg caffeine. There is a big difference between the caffeine levels in normal and decaf brewed coffee. An 8oz normal brew has 95-165 mg caffeine while the same amount of decaf brew has 2-5 mg. 

Coffee is not the only source of caffeine during breastfeeding. Caffeine can also be found in tea, soda, alcohols and certain types of medications. Energy drinks often have high caffeine levels as well. 

Hidden sources of caffeine

Food that is considered healthy may contain caffeine even though you don’t realise it. For example, green tea contains a certain amount of caffeine. 6 oz of green tea contains 40 mg of caffeine. Thus, even beverages like tea during pregnancy must be consumed moderately.

Caffeine is one of the elements found naturally in cocoa beans. Hence, chocolate has a certain amount of caffeine. And the darker the chocolate, the higher is the caffeine level. Some chocolates may even be fortified with added caffeine to act as an energy booster. 

Many over-the-counter pain relievers have high levels of caffeine to ease the pain. Similarly, weight-loss pills may also be loaded with caffeine. 

Other surprising sources of caffeine while breastfeeding include instant oatmeal, energised sunflower seeds, energy water, and breath mints.

While the linkage between increased risk of adverse pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes, and caffeine is not concrete, it is best to limit the consumption of caffeine during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimester. If you simply cannot do without your good old cup of joe, limit yourself to 300 mg of caffeine per day. This will ensure that you and your baby will stay healthy throughout your pregnancy. Feel free to check with your doctor or nutritionist as well.