Nine months is a long time for anything, especially adhering to all the guidelines that come with growing a human.
For roughly 270 days, pregnant women must remember to take prenatal vitamins, say no to alcohol, give up rigorous exercise, chill it on the hair dye, and—undoubtedly one of the most difficult tasks of all—limit caffeine.
With all the preparation needed to welcome a newborn home and the sleepless nights of tossing and turning as the body changes, caffeine is the last thing most pregnant women want to let go, but it’s important for a number of reasons.
How caffeine works in the body
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in the leaves, seeds, and fruits of more than 63 plant species all around the world. A little caffeine from time to time is not inherently dangerous, and works to increase alertness and can even help improve memory and logical reasoning.
So, if you only partake in caffeinated drinks from time to time, avoiding them during pregnancy shouldn’t be a huge task for you. But if you are not even able to get out of bed without a mug of coffee, you’ll have some work to do. Caffeine addiction is a very real thing; after all, caffeine is classified as a drug and it’s very possible to grow dependent upon it to function:
- It impacts the chemical workings of the brain. Caffeine works by blocking certain receptors and stimulating others in the brain, thus having a major influence on energy levels and mood.
- It can harm the body when consumed in excess. In extreme (and very rare) cases, exorbitant caffeine consumption has even lead to death. But even more than a few mugs a day can have a long-term negative effect on health and well-being.
- It’s incredibly addictive. Believe it or not, caffeine addiction is a recognized medical condition by the medical community, which has found that humans can develop a physical dependence to it. For example, when stopping it completely, some people experience withdrawal symptoms like stomach pain, fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating.
- Consuming it comes with some short- and long-term side effects. Some of those include diarrhea, stomach pain, headaches, and nausea.
Caffeine also increases blood pressure, heart rate, and the amount of urine in the body (meaning it can potentially lead to dehydration when fluids are not replenished).
Why you should avoid caffeine during pregnancy
During pregnancy, all of these issues are heightened because of the potential impact on the growing baby—whatever you eat and drink gets passed on in some way to your unborn child. So, while your body might be able to handle a little bit of the jitters from too much coffee, your baby cannot and caffeine in excess can actually affect his or her heart rate.
Consuming too much caffeine during pregnancy could also lead to some serious complications. Though further research is needed, some preliminary testing done on animals has found that too much caffeine can lead to birth defects, premature labor, preterm delivery, and reduced fertility, as well as increase the risk of low birth weight. Some studies have also shown a link to delayed conception. Although there have not been conclusive studies done on humans yet, research strongly indicates that pregnant women should monitor daily consumption of the substance to minimize risks.
How much caffeine is okay to consume?
Although caffeine is considered a drug and can lead to some side effects, in moderation it’s relatively safe and can even offer health benefits—so, it’s perfectly fine for pregnant women to consume a little bit each day.
In general, the less the better, but Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 200 milligrams a day. Here’s how that breaks down in coffee, tea, and soda:
- 8 ounces of brewed coffee has 95 milligrams of caffeine
- 8 ounces of brewed tea has 47 milligrams of caffeine
- 12 ounces of soda (i.e. cola) has 33 milligrams of caffeine
Sources of caffeine
Although it’s often the first thing that comes to mind when we need a jolt, coffee isn’t the only place you can find caffeine. It’s also present in various concentrations in:
- Coffee-flavored ice cream or frozen yogurt
- Brewed and instant tea
- Soft drinks and energy drinks
- Hot cocoa
- Chocolate milk
- Dark chocolate and milk chocolate bars
- Chocolate syrup
- Even decaf coffee!
The amount will vary in all of these items based on a few different factors:
- The brand of the product and how it’s prepared
- The type of beans or leaves that are used and their origin
- How it’s served (for example, straight espresso has more than a milk-based latte)
- The size of the cup
Pain relief, migraine, headache, and cold medicines also may contain caffeine, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all manufacturers to clearly list the amount on product labels. Consult with your ob/gyn first before taking any over-the-counter medicines or adding in a new prescription.
5 ways to lower your caffeine intake
If you need to decrease your caffeine intake, first consult with your doctor for tips and advice on how to do so safely. Here are a few additional tips that can help ease the process.
1. Don’t quit cold turkey
Remember, some caffeine is okay to drink—but loads of it every day is certainly not. Sit down and think about how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis and figure out what you should cut out and where you can scale back.
2. Drink other beverages
Take this opportunity to improve your health by adding more water in your system. At times when you’d normally be sipping on a cup of coffee or guzzling some soda, replace it with ice cold water. If that doesn’t satisfy you, consider adding in fresh mint, cucumbers, or even strawberries to flavor the water, or opt for a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea to provide a little something extra without the jitters.
3. Go decaf
Having an especially hard time without your morning cup of joe? Opt for decaf instead, which will allow you to get the full-bodied taste of coffee without all the side effects and risks. Decaf still be consumed in moderation, though, as it does have small amounts of caffeine in each serving that can really add up.
4. Examine your finances
For a little mental boost, take a look at your budget and determine how much money you normally spend on sodas and coffee every month. Then, imagine all of that money going toward something else—say, a crib or diapers. While this won’t help you physically, it can be reassuring to know what a smart decision it also is financially to lower your caffeine intake.
5. Energize differently
If you rely on caffeine to get out of bed in the morning and get things done, you’ll definitely notice the lack of energy with less coffee and soda in your system. Not only that, but your pregnancy body is undergoing a lot of changes and is hard at work, so you’re likely to be tired out. There are other ways to naturally pump up, though, like morning exercise or a quick walk around the block, as well as these caffeine-free products that provide a wakeup call, too.
Maca is an invigorating root that grows high in the Andes Mountains—a place where very few other crops are able to thrive. This speaks a lot to the power of this superfood! It’s been proven to increase energy and mood, so add a scoop of maca to your morning smoothie for more stamina and higher mental alertness throughout the entire day. It’s also suitable for cakes, extracts, soups, baked goods, and can even be added to water.
Cordyceps mushrooms have been a fixture in ancient Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. They are considered adaptogens, which are basically natural ways of increasing and sustaining energy levels all day long by activating the body’s own energy production at the cellular level. This drink mix tastes similar to coffee and can provide a boost at any time. It’s also portable so it’s perfect for anyone on the go; just add to a cup of hot water to make an instant energizing beverage.
Infused with herbal extracts from ginseng, Chinese Fo-ti, gingko, gotu kola, peppermint, and rosemary, these capsules are a sure way to heighten your mental agility and focus without needing the cup of coffee or can of soda. Gaia’s formula in particular enhances the cognitive functions of the brain with herbs that are known to support memory and concentration, and encourage clear thought. Plant-based antioxidants also help to support the vessels that deliver blood to the brain, giving even more of a natural boost.
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