Caffeine, Sugar, and Pregnancy – Oh my!

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

The amount and safety of caffeine consumed during pregnancy are among some of concerns that may arise during the pregnancy journey. This is especially true if there is confusion and/or mixed recommendations surrounding the consumption of caffeine. The consumption of caffeine can also pose a concern for those who are hoping to try for a baby and have not yet conceived. Therefore; this article hopes to bring to light some of the risks, benefits and information surrounding caffeine consumption to help the reader make an informed choice for them self along with their baby.

In Australia it is estimated that adults consume on average 150-259mg of caffeine per day, with those over 51 consuming the highest amounts of caffeine, and those under 30 years consuming the least amount of caffeine according to the Australia Bauru of Statistics Health Survey released 2015.

The effects of caffeine often appear within 30 minutes after consuming the item (beverage or food) that contains the caffeine and these effects can last up to 6 hours; if the consumer is pregnant the effects of the caffeine can last much longer than 6 hours as the body becomes slower in its ability to clear the caffeine from the blood. Caffeine is believed to be freely transported across the placenta to the baby and it is also said that this caffeine is unable to be broken down by the placenta or baby. This means that the baby is exposed to around the same amount of caffeine as the individual who has consumed the beverage or drink containing caffeine. It is also important to be aware that the body’s ability to clear the caffeine from the blood stream is also believed to be impaired in the elderly. Effects of may be experienced differently for each person; however, these effects will often include one or all the following symptoms with small amounts of caffeine (under 200mg):

  • Increased need for urination

  • Feeling or becoming more alert

  • Feeling or becoming more active

  • Increased body temperature

  • Rapid breathing

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

  • Increased production of stomach acid

Furthermore, if consumption of caffeine is higher than 200mg daily and consumed on a regular basis there are also concerns that this consumption may increase the individual’s risk for the following:

  • Osteoporosis in post-menopausal biological females

  • Ulcers

  • Insomnia

  • Cardiovascular Disease

  • Heartburn

  • Anxiety

  • Depression (conversely the drinking ‘coffee’ lowers the risk of depression in some people)

There are also concerns that caffeine may also affect lung and kidney health as well. If the consumer of caffeine is either trying to conceive or already pregnant there are additional concerns to be aware of and these concerns are that it may increase the risk of:

However, it is important to be aware that many of these risks are ‘inconclusive’ with mixed findings in a wide range of studies and in many of the studies indicating risk those pregnant consumed well over 200mg (often between 300-500mg or more; this would be moderate-excessive intake in any person) daily. In fact, many studies appear to indicate that consumption of caffeine at 200mg or less is likely safe and they do not appear to increase the consumers risk of the above listed concerns. It is generally recommended to keep caffeine consumption well below the 300-400mg per day intake level as this is the level of intake where risks appear to be evident. Once again though, low daily intake (200mg or less) of caffeine does not appear to increase risks during pregnancy; although it is best to reduce and limit caffeine consumption where/when able. If you are a heavy caffeine consumer it is best to consider easing off gradually (up to ½ cup reduction daily) rather than going 'cold turkey' this may help to reduce the withdrawal side effects which are common in the first few days of reduction – these side effects are:

  • Drowsiness or fatigue

  • Concentration difficulties

  • Weakness

  • Headaches

To assist in reduction of caffeine you could consider:

  • Switching from black tea to green tea that contains less caffeine

  • Switching from caffeinated tea to a decaf black/green tea or non-caffeinated herbal tea (ensure you check the herb you’re planning to drink is safe for use during pregnancy)

  • Switching from any form of brewed coffee to instant coffee which contains less caffeine

  • Switching to more fruit juice, water, or milk

To assist with monitoring your own caffeine intake levels here is a short list of some commonly consumed foods and beverages along with the amount of caffeine each of these items contains:

  • One cup coffee (using 1 teaspoon decaf only) = 1-5mg caffeine

  • One cup coffee (using 1 teaspoon of instant coffee) = 40 – 80mg caffeine

  • One cup coffee (using ground or brewed coffee) = 47-200mg caffeine

Be aware that some ground or brewed coffees can reach amounts of up to 200mg from just a small 50mg cup of coffee so make sure you check how much caffeine is in your coffee preference to ensure your ability to moderate and monitor intake
  • One cup of Black or Green Tea (using 1 tea bag or teaspoon – green tea contains less caffeine) = 10-50mg caffeine

  • One 375ml can of cola regardless of brand = 50mg caffeine

  • One 250ml can of energy drink = 70-100mg caffeine

  • One 100g bar of chocolate = 20-60mg caffeine ( if you are a chocolate lover aim for milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate as it contains less caffeine or white chocolate which contains little to no caffeine depending on how it has been made)

  • 3 teaspoons of cocoa made into a cup of hot or cold cocoa (chocolate) drink = 2-12mg caffeine

  • 1 cup of shop bought Chocolate Milk = 5-8mg caffeine

You can find more information about caffeine contents in food at the Food Standards Australia website. It is important to be aware that some medications (both over the counter and prescription) contain caffeine, as do some ice-creams, other drinks, and biscuits – so it is worthwhile considering double checking these before consuming any medication, food, or drink during pregnancy. In addition, many foods and beverages containing caffeine also contain a chemical known as tannins. Tannins can make it difficult for the body to effectively absorb iron; as a result, recommended iron levels (particularly those during pregnancy) may not be as easily achieved. There is some good news though, and that is according to a recent study caffeine consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding does not appear to have negative consequences on infant sleep– so at least you know your baby is unlikely to be kept up all night from you having a cup or two of caffeine. Furthermore, caffeine like almost anything else carries with it a range of benefits for the consumer and these are:

  • Lower than average risk of Type 2 diabetes

  • Lower than average risk of Parkinsons disease

  • Reduced risk of depression and impacts of depression

  • Reduced risk of Bowel Cancer

  • Reduced risk of Alzheimers disease

  • The ability to feel more awake and alert when

  • Increased ability to focus and stay calm for some who struggle with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Another thing to consider at any time during life (especially when pregnant) is that a few studies have also been released which link caffeine consumption to increased sugar consumption, or at the very least increased sugar cravings. There are growing concerns that excessive sugar consumption during pregnancy may lead to diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, increased risk of cavities and increased nausea or vomiting in the consumer. In addition, sugar consumption (including artificial sweeteners) may be linked to epigenetic alterations in the infant along with potential adverse effects on their childhood cognitive development. Conversely, sugars naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables do not appear to be negatively linked to the potential concerns above and in some instances appear to repair or prevent the above concerns in the consumer and infant/child. Some sugar alternatives for those who have a sweet tooth but wanting to reduce sugar consumption are:

  • Coconut Sugar

  • Honey

  • Date Paste or Dates (you can make Date Paste yourself by blending ¾ cup water, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1 cup of pitted dates).

  • Snack on dried fruits and nuts

  • Snack on cut up raw fruit

  • Snack on frozen fruits (frozen plums, berries, or orange juice homemade ice blocks)

  • Cook up sweet potato in meals

  • Pureed fruits are also great

  • Eat more vegetables containing natural sugars

  • Try some cinnamon sprinkled on foods

  • Rice Syrup and Barley Malt Extract can sweeten up many baked meals

  • Yacon Syrup is also believed to be similar in taste to sugar but with ½ the calories

  • Enjoy some fruit smoothies

To conclude, the risk of caffeine consumption is inconclusive and appears to be minimal provided the consumer is not drinking excessive amounts of caffeine (upwards of 300mg). Consuming 2-3 cups of tea per day or 2 cups of coffee appears to be safe and could even carry some life long protective health benefits for some people. However, limiting consumption of caffeine where possible until further studies can provide more conclusive findings is preferable. Furthermore, if you are looking at reducing your sugar consumption or struggling with iron absorption difficulties then reducing your caffeine may aid with those issues too.

#caffeineinpregnancy #caffeineduringpregancy #sugarduringpregnancy #sugaralternatives #canberradoula

ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Canberra Doula who also spent over 5 years working in the childcare field as a childcare educator (including as a Room Leader); she holds relevant children's services qualifications alongside Doula qualifications. In addition, Lee holds a wide range of qualifications and training in fields that include but are not limited to trauma and natural therapies. Lee is a proud Aspie woman and mother of 5 children (2 with disabilities). Information within this article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed as medical advice and should not be used as medical advice. Crystals outlined in this article should not be used in place of medical advice or treatment. If you are experiencing physical or mental health concerns, please seek help from a Medical Professional. Furthermore, a small commission is made on some links provided within these blog articles

We hope you have found this post informative and make sure you let us know if there is a topic you would like us to cover in our blogs. If you are interested in learning more and finding out about our Canberra Doula Services (ACT & Nearby NSW), Travelling Doula Service (Wider NSW & QLD), or Energy Healing Sessions make sure you get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

~Blessings Lee your Canberra Doula

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