Decaf Coffee During Pregnancy: A Necessary Evil?


decaf coffee during pregnancySo you’re having a baby! What an crazy time for you. Amongst all the excitement of name picking, nesting and the never ending list of questions from perfect strangers who try to touch your belly, you are having to completely alter your habits.

No more night caps. No more brie. No more sushi.

But worst of all. dum dum DUM. No more coffee.

This was super difficult for me because, like a lot of things in pregnancy, no one really explains things to you. They just give you rules and you’re supposed to follow them.

I’m pretty die hard about a cup of black coffee. #deathbeforedecaf

But I was willing to do anything for my little bump, so I switched to decaf. And I’d like to share the updated information that’s available for us coffee-obsessed mamas.

First off, decaf isn’t actually devoid of caffeine.

decaf has caffeine in itMind. Blown. Am I right?

According to staff at, decaf has less than half the amount of caffeine per cup that a cup of a regular brewed coffee has.

8 oz regular: 163   VS   8 oz decf: 56

So switching to decaf is probably a good idea. I’d suggest regulating that too though.

If that sounds crazy to you because you have a great tolerance for caffeine, I think we need to discuss how tolerance even works.

How much can a person handle before pregnancy?

There are a lot of things to consider. Size and stature. What is in your tummy. etc. But across the board, medical professionals agree, that you should stay in the 200-350mg level. Coffee stays in a person’s system for 4-6 hours. So once that time has passed, you’re okay to get your next pick-me-up. Check out my in-depth piece for more about safety guidelines for people who aren’t with child.

How bad can it possibly be?

There is a dramatic range of things that can happen to mom and baby. The caffeine crosses the placenta from mom’s blood stream into babe’s. That caffeine stays active for 10-20 for the mother and up to 4 days for the baby.

We never think about it, but caffeine is an upper.

This can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are exactly the same as those that manifest if the mother is addicted to the more “classic” drugs.

There is also the possibility of heart arrhythmia for mom and babe. And in the most dramatic of cases, miscarriage.

I don’t mean to scare you. I just want to inform you.

Although there is no evidence of caffeine leading to miscarriage in humans, because it is inhumane to put a baby at possible risk for the sake of evidence, animal testing has shown that caffeine can cause birth defects, premature birth, and low birth weight. Objective studies and surveys, like one that the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported in 2008, suggest that there is a serious relation to caffeine intake and possibility of miscarriage. They saw the miscarriage rate double if the mother had more than 200mg of caffeine women had per day.

What happens to Mom?

The possibilities are kind of endless because there are hormones and chemical reactions that differ from person to person. BUT it is agreed upon in the medical community that the biggest risks to the mother are raised heart beat, jitters that can lead to anxiety and insomnia, and heart burn and acid reflux. If you are experiencing this specific side-effect, see about how to make coffee less acidic or you can purchase some low acid k cups. We have a guide online!

The biggie is that it’s more difficult to break down caffeine as the pregnancy progresses because it strains liver that is working double time to process hormones. This boosts the caffeine level in the blood stream for an extended amount of time.

Caffeine is also a diuretic, which usually helps us stay regular in the bathroom. (Check out my previous article about the effects of coffee on the systems of the body here.) But can be really uncomfortable for the pregnant woman who is already racing to the loo more frequently than any one. In extreme situations, it could lead to dehydration.

What happens to baby?

Let’s take a look at the development of the babe in each trimester, and how the presence of caffeine could effect the progression.

First Trimester

during first trimesterIn these first thirteen weeks, your little guy or gal is developing all of their essential organs. It starts off the size of a poppy seed!

The placenta appears on the side of the uterus to provide nutrients to the fetus.

And they’re growing at an alarming rate.

With these things in mind, OBGYN’s and family care providers typically tell women to avoid caffeine at all costs, because they do not have fully developed livers and because their hearts are beating quickly as is.

The absence of a stimulant give the fetus a advantage because they can grow at their pace without having to fight against chemical reactions during the process.

Second Trimester

acorn squash second trimesterDuring this stage of pregnancy, your little guy has grown his liver! So he or she has the ability to
metabolize the caffeine, if you decide to partake. The miscarriage rate decreases significantly at 21-23 weeks because their liver is fully developed.

BUT this is around the same time that they develop their sleeping patterns. So it is very important to stay under the allotted amount of 200 mg a day, the equivalent of 1 cup of regular coffee. Or you’ll have increased fetal movement which could range from uncomfortable for mama to preterm labor.

Third Trimester

third trimester watermelonThis is where it gets exciting. The nesting period has probably begun for all the happy mums, and this has probably got you reaching for you coffee more and more.

If you’re at all like I was when I was with child, you’re thinking that it makes sense to have your regular amount of caffeine now. At this stage bebe has all of his or her vital organs and has got a sleep schedule down packed.

BUT this is the stage that he or she has started to store up iron, calcium, and phosphorous. And according to nutritionists, tannins in coffee make it difficult to absorb iron. This could lead to temporary iron deficiency for mama, or even predisposition babe to be anemic.

If you’re convinced that you want to cut down, here are some helpful tips.

reusable coffee cupTo help in the regulation of your coffee needs, you can get a small coffee traveler to be a mobile measuring stick for you.

Check out our selection in our online shop here.

You could also invest in some k cups. Check out our single serve machines in our coffee store. That way you are completely aware of every cup you make.

You could use a mug/maker combo, like our French press rigs here.

You may be thinking that 1 cup of coffee just won’t cut it for you.

So let’s talk about some safe alternatives.

Decaf, as I mentioned before, has less than half of the amount of caffeine a normal cup does.

Black tea, like an Earl Grey or an English Breakfast Tea, has even less. There is about 45mg per standard 6oz tea cup.

ginkgoAnd if you want to skip caffeine entirely, you can go the herbal tea route. As a certified herbalist, I would recommend Ginkgo Biloba tea.

This light, sweet infusion provides the aid in concentration by stimulating microcirculation to the brain. It tones and protects the muscles of the heart. It boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation, and is an antioxidant, which helps your body fight off toxins and promotes the flow of oxygen throughout the body.

And if none of that sounds like it’ll work for you, I’ve found some medical/ psychological guidelines to breaking habits here.

You can always go the cold turkey route. The possibility for adverse effects like the migraines and irritability are high. But it’s quick. Takes about 5 days to a week for the body to regulate.

If you can suffer that long, more power to you.

But with the other things like hormones flying, food cravings and weird sleep, it might be smarter to wean yourself off of the goods.

reading pregnant

Experts on coffee addiction suggest that you can lessen your intake by 2 oz every 2-3 days and see hardly any side effects. This works especially well if you are keeping hydrated.

The best thing you can do as a mother-to-be is cut yourself a little slack.

So many things in your life are changing at a rapid rate. Coffee is important. But the babe is the priority, right? So to answer the question that brought us here, is caffeine a necessary evil? I’d say that that’s up to you, mom. Just mind that 200mg rule, and you are golden.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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