Pregnant celebrities get a lot of flak when they're spotted with coffee, but docs weigh in on whether a cutback is really necessary.

By By Colleen Stinchcombe
July 06, 2018
Photo: Shutterstock/Dejan Dundjerski

There are a lot of changes women are asked to make when they become pregnant. Stop drinking. Skip the raw fish. Say no to soft cheese. The list goes on and on. But arguably one of the hardest things to cut back on is coffee. Celebrities like Pink have caught flak for indulging in coffee (which ended up being decaf), and former Bachelorette Jillian Harris said coffee was the one thing she wasn't giving up after people criticized her caffeinated habit.

On the other hand, a pregnant Katherine Heigl added coffee back into her diet at the recommendation of her doctor. Seriously! So can someone please answer the question, once and for all: Can you drink coffee while pregnant?

Adeeti Gupta, M.D., founder of Walk In Gyn Care, says you shouldn't turn in your Starbucks Gold card just yet. "It's widely prevalent that coffee is off-limits when you find out you're pregnant, but this is a myth," she explains. "There is a base limit, but you don't have to quit."

Halle-freaking-lujah. But how much caffeine can a pregnant woman have? Dr. Gupta says about one to one and a half cups of coffee daily, as there is no documentation of any birth defects, or any growth or mental retardation, with that amount. (Related: 10 Surprising Facts About Caffeine.)

For those who want to get into the nitty-gritty of how much caffeine a pregnant woman can have per day, you can measure your intake in milligrams per day, says Crystal Karges, R.D., a nutrition coach for moms. "The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has recommended that women consume 200 milligrams (mg) or less, and that's generally been shown to be a safe amount," says Karges.

That means that whether you need to cut back on your coffee consumption depends on how much you're already drinking. If you're only having a cup a day as it is, you can keep your routine as is. But if you're a steadfast three-cup-a-day consumer, "I would recommend cutting down to one cup or one and a half cups max," suggests Dr. Gupta. (Related: How I Gave Up Caffeine and Finally Became a Morning Person.)

And while some women can immediately cut back or have no problem going cold turkey, Karges says she normally advises her patients to take it slow. "Start decreasing the amount of coffee that you're drinking by half a cup at a time," she says. "[It can help] prevent withdrawal headaches and pain associated with cutting too quickly."

Additionally, if you're going to drink coffee, Dr. Gupta recommends drinking a glass of water afterward to combat the drink's diuretic effects. "Coffee dehydrates you and it can lower your blood pressure and make you faint because of the changes that happen in your circulatory system," she says. You also don't want to gulp it down on an empty stomach. "Pregnancy itself predisposes you to heartburn, and coffee on an empty stomach will do the same thing," adds Dr. Gupta.

Still curious about caffeine consumption while pregnant? Check out the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions below.

How much caffeine is in coffee?

It really depends on what type of coffee-based drink you're getting, and in what size. A 12-oz. (or tall) drip coffee at Starbucks, for example, has about 260mg of caffeine, whereas a cold brew coffee has about 200mg in a 16-oz. (or grande) cup. The one drink you'll definitely want to avoid while pregnant: a 20-oz. (or venti) blonde roast, which earns the title of the most caffeinated coffee at Starbucks.

That said, the average 8-oz. drip coffee you'd brew at home has about 145mg of caffeine, and a French press variety drops down to about 108mg. You could also opt for espresso drinks, which are actually often lower in caffeine. Example: An espresso shot at Starbucks only has about 75mg of caffeine, which is the same amount found in a tall cappuccino.

Does light or dark roast have more caffeine?

There's a popular myth that light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast, but a 2017 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food didn't find significant differences between the two. The study was focused on understanding the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory property changes that happen via roasting, but along the way found that roasting didn't seem to change caffeine levels. Light roast coffee was found to have more antioxidants, however, which might change your preference. (Related: People Are Losing Their Minds Over Clear Coffee.)

Does decaf coffee still have caffeine?

Yes, but significantly less. A tall decaf at Starbucks has about 20mg of caffeine, which makes it a good option for those who might miss the flavor of coffee more than the caffeine, suggests Dr. Gupta. But she hasn't encountered many patients making that choice and says that, for most women, the taste of coffee becomes less palatable when they're pregnant.

Is coffee the only drink to worry about while pregnant?

Unfortunately, no. There's caffeine in plenty of other drinks, and if you're not aware, your total consumption can sneak up on you. For example, there are about 71mg of caffeine in a 12-oz. black tea and green tea has a surprising 30mg in that 12-oz. cup. (Though you can get other health benefits from drinking green tea.)

Energy drinks and nutritional formulas often contain caffeine too, and brands usually only disclose it in small print, says Dr. Gupta. Other culprits: Soda, chocolate, chai lattes, matcha, Kombucha, and even over-the-counter medicines like Excedrin.

Why would my doctor recommend drinking coffee while pregnant?

If you have migraines, keeping coffee in your diet may be a good alternative to over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, says Dr. Gupta. Caffeine helps constrict blood vessels that swell during a migraine, which is what causes that pounding sensation. Of course, you'll still want to limit your consumption-and consult with your doctor before making any changes-but it could be a viable option if you're a regular sufferer.

What would happen if I had too much caffeine while pregnant?

Probably not much, if it's a one-off occurrence. "The risks will happen only if there's a consistently high consumption of caffeine, which means at least more than five cups a day," says Dr. Gupta. If that's the case, then pre-term labor, high blood pressure, and low birth weight are all possible risks, she adds.

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