Caffeine, Sugar, and Pregnancy – Oh my!

Updated: Jul 8

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.

caffeine during pregnancy

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