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Eating and nutrition

  • It’s important to eat healthy foods during pregnancy.
  • Most pregnant women need around 300 extra calories per day.
  • Take a prenatal vitamin every day.
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Caffeine in pregnancy

Caffeine is a drug found in many foods, drinks, chocolate and some medicines. It’s a stimulant, which means it can keep you awake. Most adults get caffeine mainly from coffee.

The March of Dimes recommends that women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant get no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day. This is the amount of caffeine in about one 12-ounce cup of coffee.

How does caffeine affect your body? 

Caffeine helps keep you awake. It slightly increases your blood pressure and heart rate and the amount of urine your body makes. Caffeine causes some people to feel jittery, have indigestion or have trouble sleeping.

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. During pregnancy, you may be especially sensitive to caffeine because it may take you longer to clear it from your body than someone who’s not pregnant.

Does caffeine during pregnancy affect your baby? 

Yes. During pregnancy, caffeine passes through the placenta and reaches your baby. Caffeine may decrease blood flow to the placenta, which may cause problems for your baby.

You may have heard that too much caffeine can cause miscarriage (when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy). Some studies say this is true and some say it’s not. Until we know more about how caffeine can affect pregnancy, it’s best to limit the amount you get to 200 milligrams each day.

Is caffeine safe during breastfeeding? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it’s safe for breastfeeding moms to have caffeine. A small amount of caffeine does get into breast milk, so limit caffeine if you’re breastfeeding. Breastfed babies of women who drink more than 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day may become irritable or have trouble sleeping.

What foods and drinks contain caffeine? 

Caffeine is found in:

  • Coffee and coffee-flavored products, like yogurt and ice cream
  • Tea
  • Some soft drinks
  • Chocolate and chocolate products, like chocolate syrup and hot cocoa

The amount of caffeine in foods and drinks varies a lot. For coffee and tea, the brand, how it’s prepared, the type of beans or leaves used, and the way it’s served (espresso, latte and others) can affect the amount of caffeine.

The table below lists foods and drinks and the amount of caffeine each contains. The amounts listed are averages, so they may change depending on the brand or how the food or drink is made.

What medicines contain caffeine?

Some medicines used for pain relief, migraines, colds and to help keep you awake contain caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that label on medicine lists the amount of caffeine in the medicine.

If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider before taking any medicine that contains caffeine. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicine. A prescription is an order for medicine given by a health care provider. Over-the-counter means medicine, like pain relievers and cough syrup, you can buy without a prescription.

Some herbal products contain caffeine. These include guarana, yerba mate, kola nut and green tea extract. Herbal products are made from herbs, which are plants that are used in cooking and for medicine. The FDA does not require that herbal products have a label saying how much caffeine they contain. Some herbal products have as much caffeine as 8 cups of coffee! If you’re pregnant, don’t use herbal products because we don’t know how much caffeine they contain.

Last reviewed June 2012

See also: Eating healthy during pregnancy, Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy

Foods to avoid

  • Unpasteurized milk or juice
  • Soft cheeses like feta and Brie
  • Unheated deli meats and hot dogs
  • Refrigerated, smoked seafood
  • Undercooked poultry, meat or seafood

Frequently Asked Questions

How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?

The exact amount of weight you need to gain depends on how much you weigh before pregnancy and your Body Mass Index (BMI). Below are some guidelines, but talk to your health provider about your specific pregnancy weight gain goals.

If you began pregnancy at a healthy weight, you should gain 25 to 35 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on about 1 pound every week in the second and third trimesters.

If you began pregnancy underweight, you should probably gain about 28 to 40 pounds. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, try to gain slightly over a pound a week in the second and third trimesters.
If you began pregnancy overweight, you should gain only 15 to 25 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on slightly over ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters. While you don't want to gain too much weight, never try to lose weight during pregnancy because that could harm your baby.

If you were obese (with a BMI over 30) at the start of your pregnancy, you should gain only 11 to 20 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, aim for gaining slightly under ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters.

Is it safe to eat cold cuts when I'm pregnant?

It's not safe for pregnant women to eat deli meats (such as ham, turkey, salami and bologna) or hot dogs unless the food has been thoroughly heated and is steaming hot. These foods can cause a form of food poisoning called listeriosis and is caused by bacteria. Heating deli meats until steaming hot will kill the bacteria if it's present.

Listeriosis is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Most people don't get sick when they eat food contaminated with listeria. But healthy pregnant women are more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis and are more likely to become dangerously ill from it.

The flu-like symptoms of listeriosis can sometimes advance to potentially life-threatening meningitis (infection of the membranes covering the brain, with symptoms such as severe headache and stiff neck) and blood infection. Contact your health care provider if you're pregnant and you develop any of these symptoms.

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