|Do I have to give up caffeine now that I'm pregnant?
Not necessarily. You can still enjoy your favorite caffeinated drinks as long as you don't overdo it. Research suggests that moderate amounts of caffeine won't harm you or your baby during pregnancy. Researchers define moderate as 300 to 400 milligrams (mgs) of caffeine, about what you'd get in three to four 8 oz. cups of coffee or seven to nine cans of cola.
However, many pregnant women limit their intake even further or cut out caffeine completely. If that seems wise to you, you won't get any arguments from your midwife or doctor.
Is it dangerous to get more than the moderate amount of caffeine during pregnancy?
No one really knows for sure, but a study published in February 2003 by Danish researchers did find an association between heavy coffee consumption — between four and seven cups a day — and an increased rate of stillbirth.
Earlier research is both confusing and inconsistent about the effects of drinking more than three or four cups of coffee a day. Some studies have linked miscarriage, low birthweight, and birth defects such as cleft palate to large amounts of caffeine. But much of this research failed to take into account other risk factors such as smoking and alcohol, which can also lead to complications in pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
What exactly does caffeine do to my body?
For starters, no matter which form it's in, food or beverage, caffeine is a nutritional loser. It contains absolutely no vitamins or minerals.
Caffeine is also a stimulant; it increases your heart rate and metabolism, which in turn stresses your developing baby. But while unremitting stress isn't healthy, brief bouts of fetal stress, such as that your baby would feel after you drink a cup of coffee, won't cause him any harm. It's akin to your dashing to the bus, another situation that briefly boosts your heart rate and metabolism.
Anyone who drinks coffee regularly knows that it's addictive and that large amounts can also cause insomnia, nervousness, and headaches. And it's a diuretic, which causes you to lose water and other fluids and calcium, all of which you need to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Caffeine also hampers your body's ability to absorb iron — by as much as 40 percent if you drink it within one hour of a meal.
Which foods and beverages contain caffeine?
More than you might think — and caffeine hides in nonfood items as well. Chocolate and some nonherbal teas have caffeine. Some over-the-counter drugs, including headache and cold tablets, stay-awake medications, and allergy remedies also contain caffeine.
Even the amount of caffeine in coffee and tea varies widely, ranging from 30 to 150 mgs per cup depending on whether the coffee grounds or tea leaves are brewed or instant, weak or strong. Sodas vary too, and you can't assume that a so-called noncola doesn't have caffeine; many do. Check the chart below for caffeine amounts in some common foods and beverages.
You might be surprised at how easily you can get a big dose of caffeine. This chart highlights just a few common foods, drinks, and drugs that contain the stimulant.
Item Amount Caffeine
Diner coffee 8 ounces 350 mg
Gourmet coffee 8 ounces 175 mg
Brewed coffee 5 ounces 105 to 115 mg
Espresso single 100 mg
Cappuccino single 100 mg
Instant coffee 6 ounces 57 mg
Decaffeinated coffee 5 ounces 5 mg
Brewed tea 6 ounces 20 to 110 mg
Iced Tea 12 ounces 70 mg
Instant Tea 7 ounces 30 mg
Cola 1 12-ounce can 30 to 56 mg
Diet cola 1 12-ounce can 38 to 45 mg
Non-cola 1 12-ounce can 54 mg
Sprite and 7-Up 1 12-ounce can 0 mg
Chocolate 2 ounces 10 to 50 mg
Cocoa 1 5-ounce cup 4 mg
Diet pills (such as Dexatrim) 1 100 to 200 mg
No-Doz 1 100 to 200 mg
(such as Anacin, Excedrin) 1 30 mg and up
I'd like to kick the caffeine habit -- just to be safe. Any tips?
You may find your taste buds doing the cutting back for you. Many women find their fondness for a cup of joe evaporates during the first trimester when the queasies strike.
Otherwise, to reduce the caffeine in homemade hot beverages, brew them for a shorter time. If you love a soothing cup of Earl Grey, steeping your tea bag for just one minute instead of five reduces the caffeine by as much as half. Many tea companies now offer decaffeinated black or green teas. Although herb teas often have no caffeine, make sure to read the ingredients list — you'll want to avoid large amounts of caffeine as well as certain herbs and additives that may not be safe during pregnancy.
If you're a devoted coffee or caffeinated soda fan, caffeine withdrawal isn't easy. To minimize symptoms, which include headaches, fatigue, and lethargy, ease off gradually. Cut back by half a cup of the beverage each day. You can also try switching from brewed to instant coffee.
If coffee fills an emotional need, such as your private coffee break, or if it's an early morning ritual or the perfect end to a meal, switch to a cup of decaffeinated coffee or tea. If you're hankering for an ice-cold cola, reach for the caffeine-free version, or better yet, try a glass of mineral water with a spritz of lime.