When you’re pregnant, you have to start thinking about more than just yourself. Most mothers instinctively become well aware of what they need to do to keep their growing baby safe and healthy. The same goes for new moms who are breastfeeding. There are certain foods and drinks pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should avoid for their own health and for the well-being of their baby. But, does coffee really make that list, or is it just a myth?
When coffee is a typical part of your daily routine, it can be hard to give it up. Suddenly withdrawing from caffeine can lead to things like headaches, fatigue, and irritability. But, it’s easy to consider these symptoms minor when you’re thinking about what’s best for your child.
So, what’s the real story behind coffee and pregnancy? Should you cut out caffeine altogether? Can you start drinking it again if you’re breastfeeding? Let’s take a closer look at some of the mystery surrounding coffee/caffeine during pregnancy, and what you can do to keep yourself and your baby as healthy as possible.
The Coffee Connection to Women’s Health
In general, women have to be well aware of certain health issues. Some things can put you at greater risk factors for these issues, while others can help to prevent problems. When you’re pregnant, pre-existing conditions can become worse. If certain conditions are treated or managed, it can affect your health and/or the health of your baby.
One of the most common conditions a woman faces during pregnancy is anemia. This is a drop in your red blood cell count. Anemia is often associated with an iron deficiency. Unfortunately, the caffeine in a cup of coffee can inhibit the way your body absorbs iron. An iron deficiency can cause shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and headaches. So, if you’re pregnant and you’ve been diagnosed with anemia, it’s best to limit your caffeine intake.
Coffee isn’t a bad thing for women’s health. Studies are being done all the time to determine the benefits and drawbacks to a cup of joe each day. Some of the positives include a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Women who drink unsweetened coffee are also less likely to develop type 2 diabetes because it helps your body to process sugar more effectively.
When you’re pregnant, however, the health benefits of coffee are often overshadowed by some of the potential risks it comes with for the health of your baby. So, what’s the problem with a cup of coffee when you’re pregnant?
The Effects of Caffeine During Pregnancy
Actually, one cup of coffee probably isn’t much of a problem for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. Most women can safely have up to 200mg of caffeine each day while pregnant, which is equal to about one 12oz cup of coffee. But, keep in mind that caffeine is found in everything from sodas to chocolate, not just coffee. Be sure to pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking throughout the day if you’ve already had your morning coffee fix, so you don’t take in too much caffeine.
Ingesting high amounts of caffeine while pregnant can be dangerous for your unborn child. Some studies have linked excessive caffeine intake to things like birth defects and low birth weight in newborns. It can also cause premature labor. While you might be able to process the caffeine effectively, your baby cannot. Their metabolism is still inefficient in the womb. So, whenever you take in caffeine, it can lead to changes in the way your baby moves, as well as their sleep patterns. It’s a stimulant, and even though it might give you the jolt you need to stay awake, it can be too much of a “buzz” for your baby to handle.
What About Breastfeeding?
It can be exhausting when you have to get up in the middle of the night for a feeding (or two...or three!), so coffee might feel like your best friend when you have a newborn.
Remember, your newborn is getting all of their nutrition through you, which means it’s important to eat a healthy diet. But, do you still have to keep caffeine out of the picture? Not necessarily.
It’s far less likely for the caffeine in a cup of coffee to have adverse effects on an infant who is breastfeeding because your body has time to metabolize the caffeine before it reaches your breast milk. Experts do recommend that you still limit your intake a bit, but agree that 2-3 cups of coffee each day won’t have any harmful effects on your baby.
One of the potential issues to consider is the fact that, as stated above, caffeine can lead to problems if you’re anemic. Iron is incredibly important for your baby when it comes to breast milk. If your child isn’t getting enough iron, it could be from the acidity in the coffee you’re drinking, making it harder for the body to absorb iron. You can choose to limit your intake, or look at low-acid coffee brands to make a switch.
Can You Still Get Your Coffee Fix While Pregnant?
Again, most research suggests that a cup of coffee a day while pregnant won’t do any harm. But, it’s important to consider all of the potential risk factors that come with caffeine. If you already have a health condition, you don’t want to make it worse during pregnancy by doing something you shouldn’t. Also, if you’re able to give up coffee completely while pregnant, you won’t have to worry about any of the risks it can bring to you or your child.
If you limit yourself to a cup a day, you can enjoy the jolt from your java in the morning while still keeping your baby healthy.
You can also make the switch to decaf coffee during your pregnancy. There are still trace amounts of caffeine in decaf, but only about 7mg in an 8oz cup, which is much less than its traditional counterpart.
There are also plenty of alternative drinks you can try while pregnant. Not only are they healthy for you and your baby, but they can give you the energy you typically get from a cup of coffee, too.
Some popular options include:
If you have concerns about your caffeine intake or any other foods you shouldn’t be eating while pregnant, the best thing you can do is to talk to your doctor. But, if you really want to play it safe, it’s best to put down that cup of joe and switch to an alternative while you’re pregnant. Once you start breastfeeding, you can re-introduce more caffeine back into your daily diet without causing harm to your baby.