Before we dive into recent findings on caffeine and conception, we want to talk about why coffee has long been on the ‘best avoided’ list during pregnancy and if breastfeeding. Since studies in pregnancy that monitor fetal development are limited due to potential harm to the baby, researchers don’t know the exact implications of prenatal caffeine consumption. However, longitudinal studies have shed some light on the most likely impact on healthy fetal development. The biggest concern is that caffeine can pass through the placenta and into baby’s bloodstream. While your body is well-equipped to metabolize that caffeine, your growing baby doesn’t have the same digestive capabilities. Because of this, caffeine remains in your baby’s body for longer, meaning it’s stimulating effects last longer as well. The same goes for breastfeeding, as caffeine can be passed on to baby through your breastmilk, and your newborn’s digestive tract won’t reach full maturation until 6-9 months of age.
But there are a few other reasons why caffeine and pregnancy don’t mix, and it has to do with how it makes you feel. Of course, a benefit to caffeine is that it helps keep you alert and awake throughout the day. While this probably sounds dreamy if you’re dealing with first and third fatigue or combatting sleepless nights as a new mom, caffeine can have some unsavory side effects. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it naturally raises your heart rate and blood pressure – which are already elevated during pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is key to a healthy pregnancy, and one way to keep it in a good zone is by limiting intake of food and drinks that raise it. Caffeine is also a key contributor to acid reflux, which you’re more prone to during pregnancy and after birth. If you’ve been having trouble with heartburn, a great place to start is by limiting or eliminating your caffeine consumption in order to reduce acid buildup in the stomach.
But all of this doesn’t mean you have to go cold turkey on your morning coffee! As with most things – it’s all about moderation. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between low baby birth weight and daily consumption of over 300 mg of caffeine per day – but lower intake hasn’t been shown to be harmful. General recommendations from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK and from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the US agree that daily intake of less than 200 mg of caffeine is considered safe during pregnancy. We’ll talk more about how much 200 mg of caffeine actually is in a bit – but you can think of it as one cup of strongly brewed coffee, or 2 cups of weakly brewed coffee per day.
Much of this may not be news to our new and expecting moms – but did you know that caffeine can make conception more difficult too? It’s been suggested that high caffeine intake on behalf of either partner can reduce fertility and make conceiving more difficult. Beyond that, a recent study conducted by the National Institue of Health found that when both partners drink more than 2 caffeinated beverages per day – starting 2 weeks before they conceive and through the first few weeks of pregnancy – there is an increased risk for miscarriage. While we know this may sound scary, it doesn’t have to be. Now that you know what the potential implications are, you and your partner can make lifestyle and dietary choices regarding caffeine that will be better for you, your chances of conceiving, and your baby’s future health. To help you know what your top sources of caffeine are and how best to reduce your intake – we’ve got a list of the top 6 caffeine culprits and how much a typical serving dishes out. That way you can make informed decisions that suit your needs, your lifestyle, and your healthy habits.
6 Common Caffeine Culprits
1. Coffee and espresso
Duh, right? But coffee isn’t as easy as it seems when nailing down just how much caffeine you’re getting. This is due to different types of coffee beans, different methods of roasting, and various styles of brewing. What you need to know is that espresso beans have more caffeine content than coffee beans, but since an espresso serving is so much smaller than a cup of coffee you’ll usually get more caffeine from your mug of filter coffee.
Now when it comes to roasting, lighter roasts have more caffeine content than darker roasts, while medium roasts (not surprisingly) have caffeine content somewhere in the middle. Lastly, in regards to the strength of your coffee, you’ll get more caffeine with a higher bean to water ratio. So, more coffee grounds + less water = higher caffeine, and less coffee grounds + more water = lower caffeine.
Our final note is about the misleading nature of decaf coffee. While the name implies there is no caffeine, a cup of decaf does have some caffeine. Usually, the amount is so small that it’s negligible, but it’s still good to be aware of it. While it will be hard to know for certain just exactly how much caffeine is in whatever your go-to coffee beverage is, you can use these averages as a general guideline:
8 oz cup of brewed coffee: 95 mg
1 shot of espresso: 65 mg
8 oz cup of decaf coffee: 3 mg
Similar to coffee, the caffeine amounts in tea vary based on how strongly your cup is brewed, and the type of tea you’re drinking. Unlike coffee, you can get completely caffeine-free tea if you opt for herbal varieties such as: peppermint, rooibos, ginger and chamomile. But there are four primary tea groups that boast a significant amount of caffeine, and they are black teas, green teas, oolong, and white teas. Here are some averages for the amount of caffeine you’ll find in an 8 oz cup of each of these tea types.
Black tea: 45-100 mg
Green tea: 30-70 mg
Oolong: 50-75 mg
White tea: 15-35 mg
Dark chocolate – ironically the healthiest kind of chocolate as it’s rich in antioxidants – carries the most amount of caffeine. This is because caffeine comes from the cacao bean, and dark chocolate contains higher proportions of cacao than milk chocolate. Fun fact – white chocolate ha no caffeine because the only part of the cacao bean included in it is the cacao butter, which has little to no caffeine content.
1 bar dark chocolate: 70 mg
1 bar milk chocolate: 9 mg
1 bar white chocolate: 0 mg
Colas have been an energy boosting drink for a long time – and it’s due to their significant caffeine content. So why do sodas contain caffeine? Probably because caffeine has an addictive property, leading to more drink sales over time. Dark sodas tend to boast more caffeine than lighter sodas, but all soft beverages contain alarming amounts of sugar. One of the best things you can do for your preconception and pregnancy diet is to eliminate soda entirely – reducing your caffeine and sugar intake all at once! Here are some of the top caffeine culprits when it comes to soft drinks:
12 oz Mountain Dew: 55 mg
12 oz Dr. Pepper: 41 mg
12 oz. Pepsi: 38 mg
12 oz Coke: 35 mg
5. Energy drinks and bars
It’s probably no surprise that anything with “Energy” in the label is going to contain some caffeine. Energy drinks carry some of the highest amounts of caffeine – a serving of red bull packs in about 80 mg of caffeine, and a 5-hour energy fits a whopping 208 mg into one tiny bottle! But it’s not just energy drinks – as energy bars can contain a fair amount of caffeine as well. For more information on specific breakdowns of different types of energy drinks and protein bars, check out this summary from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
6. Pain relievers
Some common over-the-counter pain medications contain caffeine as well. This is because the stimulant reduces inflammation, which is often the cause of body aches and pains. Caffeine has long been used in the treatments of headaches and migraines as well. Right before a headache comes on, blood vessels in our brain enlarge, and caffeine can actually narrow these vessels and reduce the pain. The flip side is, once you come off of caffeine, you can trigger a headache due to these blood vessels enlarging again. So when you miss your ritualistic morning cup of coffee, this is likely the sensation you’re experiencing. Here are some common pain relievers that contain considerable amounts of caffeine:
Excedrin Migraine: 65 mg
Midol Complete: 60 mg
Bayer Back and Body: 33 mg
Try not to let caffeine concerns weigh on your mind – because it really does come down to moderation, and it’s easy to stay within healthy limits when you know what your key caffeine culprits are. Take on the challenge of cutting back on caffeine consumption with your partner as you plan for pregnancy together. You’ll both be healthier for it – and your soon-to-be baby will benefit too!