It’s safe to say that many Americans enjoy a morning cup of coffee. Normally I’m in that group. Over the years, I’ve perfected my lovely routine – moving on from Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and the Keurig – and finally landing on the French press. So usually, my perfect cup consists of organic medium roast beans (ground in small batches at home for maximum freshness) with a pinch of ground cinnamon in the French press. While that’s doing its thing in the press, I mix two tablespoons of Vital Proteins collagen peptides with organic grass fed heavy cream, and a few drops of organic liquid stevia into a mug. Once my cinnamon coffee is ready, I pour that into my cup ready to enjoy every last drop. Oh yes, it’s divine. I look forward to it. I savor it. However, I also put it aside as soon as I find out I’m pregnant. I avoided it with my first two babies and I am repeating it with my third.
I’m not here to demonize coffee. Many people consider their coffee routine to be deeply personal and that’s totally fine. This is a decision I’ve made which I believe to be in the best interest of my baby and my own health during pregnancy. If you have questions or concerns about whether or not to give up the joe during your own pregnancy, please discuss with your doctor.
There have been a few studies done showing correlations between higher amounts of caffeine and miscarriage, particularly in the first trimester. There was a study in the New England Journal of Medicine where 562 women miscarried between 6 and 12 weeks. The study found that the risk of miscarriage increases with higher consumption of caffeine. It’s been stated since then that less than 200mg of caffeine a day is “considered safe” although, as far as I know, there haven’t been any conclusive studies on that. (There probably won’t be either because it’s very difficult and unethical to do specific studies on pregnant women to see if harm is done to the fetus.) While this amount is said to not pose the increased risks of miscarriage as the higher amounts do, there are still effects on the body from it, for both mom and baby.
Caffeine crosses the placental barrier, and will increase the baby’s heart rate and blood pressure – temporarily, just like it does for adults. However, it’s for a much longer time in a fetus. According to this article, caffeine typically stays in an adult’s body for about 11 hours. In a fetus, that time increases to up to 100 hours! This is because a developing fetus doesn’t have the proper enzymes to detoxify and metabolize the caffeine as an adult does. The caffeine also puts an additional burden on the liver of the mother. Normally the liver has about 500 jobs of its own on a regular basis, but during pregnancy, it has the job of dealing with and conjugating all the extra pregnancy hormones…now with handling the caffeine on top of that.
Caffeine is naturally a diuretic and increases urination. Many people are chronically dehydrated and don’t properly replenish what they’ve lost from drinking coffee/other diuretics. During pregnancy, however, hydration is even more important and there are increasing needs as the mother gets further into the pregnancy. Water is a crucial part of both the amniotic fluid and the placenta. The amniotic fluid makes up the amniotic sac, which is where the baby is living for these 40(ish) weeks. This acts as the baby’s protection from external bumps and pressures. Early in pregnancy, low amniotic fluid can lead to miscarriage. Low amniotic fluid and dehydration, later in pregnancy, can lead to contractions and preterm labor. As for the placenta, blood, oxygen, and nutrients pass through the placenta into the umbilical cord, and are filtered before reaching the baby. Dehydration can affect the viscosity of blood and change the ease of its flow and transfer of nutrients. It can also affect your own digestion and ability to get proper nutrients yourself.
Many Americans are unknowingly functioning with some level of adrenal stress or fatigue. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Overstimulation already occurs due to the high tech fast pace of the modern world. Caffeine on top of it is only adding to the problem. The adrenals are survival glands, which means they will trump whatever else is going on in your body to keep you alive. It’s a good idea to keep these little glands happy and healthy all the time, but especially during pregnancy. If the adrenals become over stressed or fatigued before or during pregnancy, they can actually steal nutrients and hormones from your baby that they need in order to continue functioning for you. Normally we’ve all heard that the fetus takes what it needs from the mother’s body, but not in this case. Stealing from the baby could also lead to your baby being born with weakened adrenals right from day one. According to this site, your own weakened adrenals can also lead to elevated blood sugar (which could land you with gestational diabetes), pre-eclampsia, elevated blood pressure, and predispose you to stretch marks due to impaired collagen repair.
The phytic acid in coffee (as well as many other foods) can bind with iron, making it unavailable for absorption. During pregnancy, your iron needs increase to accommodate your growing baby, placenta, and an increased blood volume. The phytic acid also interrupts the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and other important minerals, like zinc. Magnesium is the first mineral to be depleted during times of stress, which includes when the adrenals release cortisol in response to caffeine consumption. Since magnesium and calcium work together in coordinating muscle contractions and relaxations, this could directly affect uterine contractions. These minerals also play important roles in your baby’s developing bones and heart health and function. Zinc plays a vital role in stomach acid production (among other things, like immunity). Having low stomach acid affects your own ability to digest food and absorb those nutrients that need to nourish your own body as well as your baby’s. Having proper mineral stores in your body affects both you and your baby.
So this is why I personally choose to pass on the coffee during pregnancy. This, to me, is enough to say “no thanks”. The way I see it, coffee/caffeine doesn’t pose a single benefit to me or my baby that I can’t get from other foods, therefore I see no need to risk anything. So while the medical world may give the general “this is safe” guideline for caffeine, I choose to focus on consuming things that will actually benefit us and to use this time to be as healthy as possible…not just avoiding the stuff that can cause direct harm. I still enjoy my morning routine of a warm beverage, but during this time, I stick to naturally caffeine-free herbal teas (like peppermint or Traditional Medicinals Pregnancy tea), bone broth, or some simple warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice and a little raw honey.
Looking for more information? Check out this post from Mom Loves Best.