Bouncing (Off the Walls) Baby: Coffee and Pregnancy

Beautiful time. Side view portrait of happy attractive pregnant woman with smartwatch keeping cup and drinking coffee while looking through window

It seems to be turning out that everything everyone thought they knew about everything wasn’t quite correct. Let me be clearer: coffee doesn’t cause cancer (can actually prevent it), coffee doesn’t worsen chances for osteoporosis (can also actually prevent it), and now, coffee may not actually be a total no-no during pregnancy.

I grew up with this understanding of pregnancy, that, along with alcohol and certain cheeses and smoking, coffee was bad for someone with fetus. I think it was my mom, who also told me that coffee would stunt my growth if I drank it too early, that told me that drinking the caffeine concoction during pregnancy would also stunt the fetus’ growth. It also makes sense seeing how addictive caffeine is, that imbibing too much could result in a caffeine-baby (like a crack baby, but healthier?)

What’s the truth?

It’s not as straightforward as coffee and cancer and coffee and your bones. As with my story about giving coffee to your children, there are solid arguments for the yes and the no sides.

One of the reasons there are no direct answers is because it is considered unethical to medically test on a pregnant woman. This means that the information we have about the effects of coffee and caffeine on pregnancy and fetuses comes from looking backwards at cases where caffeine and coffee have been involved. This is problematic because of the inability to control for variables, meaning that the subjects could have ingested other drugs or foods or have other hereditary components that would make results regarding caffeine murky and inconclusive.

Researchers have been doing just this, however, and there are ways to analyze the data and information to come to pretty solid educated guesses. Those educated guesses seem to be concluding, for the most part, that caffeine and coffee is not all that bad during pregnancy. In one study, a Dr. Elmer described one pregnant person as drinking at least 6 cups per day, often going as high as 24 cups per day: “She carried the pregnancy uneventfully, with no birth defects or changes in growth, but she did end up going into premature labor. It’s hard to know for sure if caffeine caused it.” He explains that someone who feels the need to drink up to 24 cups of coffee per day even when pregnant probably has other factors going on that could contribute to premature labor. “Perhaps she was smoking, she was working in a high-stress environment, or she used other products excessively.” While on the surface this case seems to conclusively show that excess caffeine probably isn’t all that bad, it doesn’t allows us to be certain.

One of the other reasons, despite results like this, that professionals are still cautious about caffeine ingestion during pregnancy is because of the results shown in animal testing. Reportedly, caffeine intake has been linked to lower fertility, more birth defects and higher miscarriage rates as well as lower average birth-weights in various animals.

Because of the uncertainty, the recommendations for caffeine intake during pregnancy is less than 200 milligrams per day. That may sound like a lot, but a small from Starbucks already contains more than that). Experts recommend tapering off instead of quitting cold turkey because caffeine withdrawal isn’t fun and the effects of caffeine aren’t dire enough to force yourself to endure them. Remember that decaffeinated coffee has small amounts of caffeine, but you can have a lot more of it before you reach the 200 mg recommendation. One doctor recommended no more than two small cups of coffee per day, or two caffeinated beverages per day.

From my personal experience, once you wean yourself off, you’ll find that you have more consistent energy throughout the day, especially if you minimize your simple carbs and sugars and focus on complex carbs and protein (natural sources of long-lasting energy). Additionally, remember the hidden caffeine in treats like chocolate—that still counts. I remember the first time I quit coffee for a while, on the second day I was pounding the brownies that my job sold before I realized why they seemed especially delicious to me—they were giving me a tiny jolt of caffeine when my body was most desperate for it.

And, if you miss it terribly, remember that you’ll probably be getting a ton of it when that new baby refuses to conform to any kind of sleep schedule!

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17 Comments

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  1. One friend, while pregnant, decided not to drink coffee as she was concerned the caffeine wouldn’t be good for the growing fetus. However, another friend drank her coffee during trimesters, and didn’t seem to be affected (the only part I don’t remember is whether it was decaf or regular 😀 )

    Either way, me personally – I don’t feel that ingesting very small amounts, occasionally during pregnancy would be a problem. But… It has to be based on the individual and what they and their health practitioner feel is best for the expectant mother!

    Another interesting read, thanks!

    Are there any mothers in the audience here that drank coffee while pregnant? How did you feel?

    • I’m currently eight months pregnant, and I’ve drank coffee all throughout my pregnancy. I usually have a cup a day, no more than one, but some days I skip it. I hadn’t noticed any negative consequences on the days I drank it compared to the ones I didn’t. It’s so nice to have that energy boost when you’re so exhausted all of the time. One thing I did notice is that it’s becoming more difficult for me to drink that cup in the mornings now that I’m further along. These last few weeks, I’ve been able to feel a dramatic increase in movements and kicks after drinking it. It’s almost painful sometimes because of how big she is. I think, because of that, I’m going to cut it back to only drinking it when I really crave it.

      • Congratulations, Kaley! I hope you have a healthy, happy baby 🙂

        Your feedback was quite valuable, thanks for sharing.

        Drinking (and eating) only when we crave something, I think that’s our bodies telling us we are missing some important nutrition. Just something I had learned not too long ago: coffee contains B vitamins! Another good reason to drink up 😀

  2. I drank a cup or two of coffee throughout both of my pregnancies and things went OK. Well, my second pregnancy had some issues, but not because of caffeine. I’ve never really understood why some people seemed so afraid of coffee while pregnant.

  3. Pregnancy is a stage where a woman bearing the child must be extra cautious about the food that she takes. There’s no problem about being so choosy and paranoid during pregnancy. I, myself, did not regret being one. I’m a coffee addict (I love coffee so much!). But during my nine months pregnancy period, I was able to refrain myself from drinking my favorite drink. Not just because I’ve read that caffeine may have some effects on a baby inside the womb, but because I was focusing my attention on the little one inside me. It is better to be safe than sorry, right? And I’m happy I did! Well, each woman has different stories and different health issues. We know ourselves more than any others. If you are still confused whether to take coffee during pregnancy or not, the best decision is to ask your obstetrician. Why? Because she knows your health condition and has gathered your relevant data and lab results.

  4. This was a very interesting article! Currently, I’m eight months pregnant. Growing up, I had also always heard that coffee was not allowed during pregnancy, period. Unless it was decaf of course. I was actually very surprised when I found out that not only was I allowed to have regular coffee, but I could have 2-4 cups per day. In fact, they even had a coffee bar set up at the childbirth classes, (full of tired pregnant women) I went to just last month! Of course, every doctor has their own take on coffee consumption and pregnancy, but the midwife I currently see has no problem with my one or two cups a day. I can definitely see where it would be a problem for some, especially those who drank it a lot before becoming pregnant. It’s so addictive anyway, but cravings are way worse when you’re pregnant.

  5. I must admit that I really enjoyed this article and that the last sentence put a sweet smile on my face. ^-^ In addition, I could never imagine myself not drinking coffee for nine months!! Nine whole months!! It seems like forever! (;_;) Considering the fact that I drink almost a litre of coffee a day it would be almost impossible for me to stop drinking it for that period of time. It would need some serious adjusting to the situation, but all in all it is worth it in the end. 😀

  6. A cup or two of coffee is just fine. It wont hurt the unborn baby. However, I have to agree that the caffeine effect may be seen after the delivery. Child might be fuzzy or would give the mom a hard time to sleep schedule. Anyway, I am a caffeine addict for the longest time, during my pregnancy I wasnt able to drink any caffeinated drink not because the doctor said so. But it was my own body who is rejecting it. I really dont like the taste of any drinks with caffeine during pregnancy. The taste was so terrible. Luckily, I was able to find an alternative food to get my day complete. A small bar of chocolate a day. 😀

  7. What a controversial article!

    I’ve never really thought that coffee would be detrimental to fetus development. However, I think news of that spread like wildfire due to 1.) coffee being a diuretic, and 2.) coffee really affects your nerves.
    Pregnant women are usually under high observation due to their fragile health. Too much coffee could cause palpitations and whatnot which may complicate pregnancies.

    I guess we’d never really know until we research some more!

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