If you’ve just seen that extra blue line show up on your pregnancy test, you’ll probably be wondering about a thousand and one different things at once. You’ll be questioning what’s safe and what’s not safe to do to guarantee the best start for your child.
Examining what you can eat and drink during your pregnancy is completely natural, and getting rid of any bad habits is par for the course – but what about coffee? Is it safe to drink coffee while pregnant or breastfeeding?
You Might Not Even Want Coffee…
Interestingly, some women go off coffee completely during their pregnancy. That’s because of a hormone called HCG, which creates temporary taste changes affecting your cravings and aversions. So even if you had a serious skinny latte habit before you got pregnant, you may find that all of a sudden you just don’t fancy it at all. However, if your coffee craving is as strong as ever, then you’ll want to know how much you can safely consume.
UK Coffee Guidelines During Pregnancy
What does 200mg of caffeine look like?
- 2 mugs of instant coffee (100mg each) = 200mg
- 1 mug of brewed coffee (140mg) and a 50g bar of plain chocolate (up to 50 mg each) = 190mg
- 2 mugs of tea (75 mg each) and a can of cola (up to 40mg each) = 190mg
- 1 can of ‘energy’ drink (up to 80mg each – but check individual labels) and a mug of instant coffee (100mg) = 180mg
Following a study carried out in conjunction with the Universities of Leicester and Leeds a few years ago, the FSA now recommends no more than two mugs of coffee per day, or a maximum of 200mg of caffeine. But bear in mind, other drinks and some food, such as chocolate, also contain caffeine. Prior to this, 300mg was the accepted daily safe limit for pregnant women, so the new decision may err on the side of caution, but for good reason.
Too much caffeine during pregnancy has been associated with low birth weights in babies, and a low birth weight could increase the chance of certain health conditions in later life for your child. Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA says: “[pregnant women] should be careful and make sure they don’t have too much [coffee]. We would emphasise that the risks are likely to be very small.”
He also emphasised that women who had been drinking 300mg a day according to the old guidelines shouldn’t be worried. So if you have been drinking three mugs daily, don’t worry, any risk is extremely low. Maybe just ease down to two from now on! And do remember to take into account other caffeinated drinks such as tea and Diet Coke.
How to Cut Back on Coffee
It’s worth being aware that going cold turkey from coffee could result in symptoms of caffeine withdrawal – these can include headaches, shakiness and even insomnia. It’s best to cut down slowly over a couple of weeks until you filter it down to a safe amount. So, if you drink four or five cups a day, gradually wean yourself down to three or four and then to one or two. Alternatively, you could reduce your coffee intake by switching to a smaller mug, or swapping one or two cups out for a decaf alternative.
Of course, you could just make the switch to tea, which has significantly less caffeine in it at around 20mg per 100g of brewed tea compared to 40mg in the same quantity of black coffee (source: goo.gl/FyZjk9). Black and green teas contain caffeine, while most herbal teas, including Roiboos, contain no caffeine at all.
If you’ve traditionally used coffee pods when brewing your favourite cup, it’s worth thinking of the environmental impact you’ll make by cutting back too. While some pods are recyclable, many just sit in landfill releasing all sorts of contaminants into the atmosphere. And who wants pollution for their new baby? If you’re heading out for a coffee, a lot of cafes are now recycling coffee grounds for further use as fertilisers or fuels, including Leon and Costa, who also have a scheme for recycling disposable cups.
Coffee & Breastfeeding
We’ve established that it’s fine to drink coffee in moderation while pregnant, but what about when you’re breastfeeding? When you’re holding your precious newborn in your arms, of course your instinct will be to wrap it in love and security. Caffeine is a stimulant – so what does that mean for your baby?
Well, the guidelines do shift slightly – it’s recommended that you don’t drink more than 300mg a day. So, you can introduce that extra mug (and you might need to at this point, with a newborn who waking up wanting to be fed at all hours!).
However, you should still bear in mind that anything you eat and drink does enter your breast milk, so your baby will also ingest a certain amount of caffeine. As caffeine is a stimulant, it might be best to avoid it or minimise the amount you drink if you want your baby to sleep better. And it may seem counterintuitive, but you may well find that you feel more refreshed without it too.
So there’s no need to go throwing out all your jars, pods and packs of coffee or tearing up your coffee stamp card just yet.