Pregnancy and Caffeine

By Alex Zorach

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in coffee, tea, yerba mate, and a number of other plants. Caffeine can have a number of harmful health effects when it is consumed in excess. The Mayo Clinic recommends cutting back if one consumes more than 500 mg of caffeine daily. For pregnant women, however, more caution is recommended, as caffeine can cross the placental barrier and enter the bloodstream of the developing fetus, and high doses of caffeine have also been implicated in increased risks of miscarriage, low birth weight, and other complications.

Risks Of Caffeine Consumption During Pregnancy

The question of caffeine's safety during pregnancy has not been exhaustively studied scientifically. There is some controversy and a great deal of uncertainty as to how much caffeine is safe for pregnant women to consume. However, there have been a number of studies that have found increased risk of various problems during pregnancy associated with heavy caffeine use, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and low birth weight. Studies have been carried out that have controlled for possible confounding factors, including age and smoking, and some have still found increased risks of miscarriage associated with heavier caffeine use.

Many studies have found no increased rates of miscarriage or other risks for more moderate users of caffeine. The exact amount of caffeine leading to increased risk, however, is uncertain.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe During Pregnancy?

Exact safe limits for caffeine intake during pregnancy are not well-known, but some medical organizations have made concrete recommendations. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional organization of medical doctors in the United States who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, issued an press release in July of 2010, making their official recommendation that it is safe for pregnant women to consume up to 200 mg of caffeine daily. The organization had conducted a survey of the scientific literature, and observed that there was no evidence that these low doses of caffeine posed any risks for pregnant women.

Other organizations echo this recommendation. The American Pregnancy Association, a national non-profit organization in the United states, recommends that less than 200mg of caffeine should be safe for pregnant women to consume. The Mayo Clinic makes a vaguer stance, weakly claiming that "your health care provider may recommend limiting the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 200 mg a day during pregnancy." --reflecting the fact that this research is young and poorly understood, but still echoing the same general idea.

Caffeine Content Of Various Beverages

Coffee is highest in caffeine among natural sources. While the caffeine content of coffee varies widely, coffee often contains 120mg or more of caffeine per 8oz cup. This means that a 16oz cup of coffee, available in most coffee shops, can already place one over the 200mg limit. Two shots of espresso can also reach this limit.

Tea, including black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and white tea, naturally contains caffeine, but in much lower quantities. Most teas contain 60mg or caffeine per cup or less, and the caffeine content varies greatly from one tea to the next. Given this constraint, pregnant women should consume at most 3 cups of tea per day, unless they are certain that they are drinking teas that are lower in caffeine. Tea, because it contains less caffeine per cup than coffee, offers a good alternative to coffee for pregnant women who wish to reduce their caffeine intake. Most bottled (ready-to-drink) iced teas, however, are best avoided, as they can be high in sugar.

Yerba mate also has variable caffeine content, depending on how it has been prepared. Yerba mate can have less caffeine per cup than coffee, but it can approach similar levels as well. Because Yerba mate has not been as extensively studied and is not standardized, it is safest to assume that it can have as much caffeine as coffee.

Soft drinks can also contain caffeine, and typically contain less per cup than coffee. However, soft drinks provide empty calories or artificial sweeteners, and have no health benefits nor any nutritional value. They are best avoided not only during pregnancy, but at all times.

In Summary

When it comes to caffeine use in pregnancy, moderation is the key. The current medical consensus is that it is safe for pregnant women to consume 200mg or less of caffeine per day--about one cup of coffee or up to 3 cups of tea. Tea is a good alternative to coffee because it contains less caffeine.

Alex Zorach
Article by Alex Zorach
Alex Zorach has an M.A. in statistics from Yale University, and is an avid tea drinker and the creator of, a website where anyone can rate and review teas. Read more about tea and pregnancy on this website, including references to scientific studies, discussion of how much tea is safe to consume during pregnancy, and information on herbal teas and pregnancy.

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