By Elizabeth “Betty” T. Jordan DNSc, RNC, FAAN, vice dean of nursing at the University of South Florida. 

You crave your morning java – who doesn’t! But obstetricians at the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology recommend that if you’re trying to conceive or if you’re pregnant, you should limit your caffeine intake.

Research suggests that small amounts of caffeine appear to be safe – 200 mgs – or about one 12-ounce cup of coffee. What’s hard to know, however, is just how much caffeine is in that cuppa joe as it varies widely depending on the brand and how it’s prepared.

Recently, increased coffee drinking has been linked to behavior problems in offspring as observed in one of the largest, long-term studies of brain development in children that evaluated 9.000 brain scans of 9 and 10-year-old kids. The effects included attention and hyperactivity issues but overall were were minor but consistent throughout the evaluation, said study author John Foxe. Foxe directs Unversity of Rochester’s Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “This may not make a meaningful difference in the behaviors of some kids, but for those who are vulnerable in other ways, it may flip them over the threshold,” he said.


Your daily caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant found in soft drinks, foods and medications. It’s naturally produced by plants and is added to foods and beverages. Coffee is a major source of caffeine. The amount of caffeine in foods and beverages varies. In general, federal experts have measured caffeine as follows:

  • brewed coffee contains an average of 137 milligrams (mg) per 8-ounce cup
  • instant coffee contains less caffeine, about 76 mg per 8 ounce cup
  • a 12-ounce caffeinated soda contains 37 mg
  • dark chocolate (1.45 oz bar) contains 30 mg
  • milk chocolate (1.55 oz bar) contains 11 mg

There have been recent studies regarding caffeine use and miscarriage, but the results are conflicting. For example, in one recent study published in Epidemiology, women in the studies who took in more than 200 mg of caffeine each day, their risk of miscarriage was double as compared with women who didn’t have any caffeine during pregnancy, putting their risk of miscarriage at 25% versus the norm of 12.5%.

So, the thinking goes, the greater the amount of caffeine consumed each day, the greater your risks of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications. So, what’s a caffeine addict to do?

Given this study finding and other recent study findings, your first and best choice should probably be to stop drinking caffeine entirely — at least for the first few months of pregnancy. And check with your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medications as some of these can contain caffeine as well. During pregnancy caffeine crosses the placenta and therefore reaches the fetus. Caffeine may cause an increase of in your blood pressure and heart rate and it may also affect your baby’s heart rate and breathing patterns.

What if I’m breastfeeding?

If you’re breastfeeding, you should know that a small amount of caffeine does get into your breastmilk, so continue to limit or cut out caffeine. Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics have advsed that if a breasfeeding woman drinks more than 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day, herbaby may become irritable or have difficulty sleeping4.

Birth defects have not been related to taking in caffeine, but drinking three or more cups of coffee a day or getting the caffeine equivalent of that much coffee has been shown to reduce your baby’s birth weight.

Play it safe: If you can’t quit altogether, limit your intake to no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine or less each day – that’s about one 12-ounce cup of coffee. And remember, the less the better!

About the Author: Elizabeth “Betty” T. Jordan DNSc, RNC, FAAN, is the vice dean of nursing at the University of South Florida. 


Elizabeth “Betty” T. Jordan, DNSc, RNC, FAAN is Vice Dean, Undergraduate and Global Programs at the University of South Florida and expert advisor to Healthy Mom&Baby

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