Do's and don'ts of caffeine in beverages and foods

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Caffeine impacts both you as well as your growing baby. For moms, caffeine’s a diuretic as well as a stimulant, meaning that it both increases urination, as well as negatively impacts your ability to fall and stay asleep. As frequent urination and difficulty sleeping are common pregnancy complaints, it is important to consider your caffeine intake if you are struggling with either or both of these. Because caffeine travels straight through the placenta, your baby may experience its known side effects as well, including: shakiness, jitters, increased heart rate, possible uneven heart rate, elevated blood pressure, dependency, and difficulty sleeping.

Which foods and beverages contain caffeine? In addition to coffee (both regular and decaf), caffeine is also present in:

  • Non-herbal teas, including: green, matcha, yerba maté, chai, black and oolong)
  • Medications, including certain headache and migraine medications)
  • Chocolate and some soda
  • Certain herbal products and supplements. Notably those that contain guarana/paullinea cupana and kola nut/cola nitida)
  • Energy drinks. Of note, it may be best to avoid these altogether due to the unknown (or at least undisclosed) amounts of additives, potentially including vitamins, taurine, theanine, carnitine, herbs, creatine, sugars, and guarana (a plant product that naturally contains concentrated caffeine).

A word on green tea – not only does green tea contain some caffeine, but it can also limit your body’s absorption of folic acid. This B vitamin is critical during pregnancy as it promotes the proper development of an unborn baby’s neural tube, which later becomes the brain and spinal cord. Although the strength of the connection between green tea and folic acid is unclear, it may be best to limit your green tea consumption to 1-2 cups per day.

Here’s a cheat sheet identifying the average amount of caffeine in common foods and drinks. You may want to keep this handy as you calculate your 200mg per day:

  • Brewed coffee (8oz):137mg of caffeine
  • Instant coffee (8oz): 76mg of caffeine
  • Brewed tea (8oz): 48mg of caffeine
  • Instant tea (8oz): 31mg of caffeine
  • Dark chocolate (1.5oz):31mg of caffeine
  • Soda (8oz):25mg of caffeine
  • Milk chocolate (1.5oz):11mg of caffeine
  • Hot cocoa (1 packet):10mg of caffeine
  • Chocolate syrup (2Tbsp):3mg of caffeine
  • Coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt:2mg of caffeine

Always read the ingredients list to check whether caffeine is hiding in your favorite foods. Increasingly popular “energy foods” like gum, mints, sunflower seeds, energy bars, waffles, jerky and even oatmeal can contain caffeine.

What to Do

Limit caffeine to no more than 200mg per day

Remember to add up all sources of caffeine – from food, beverages and medications – to make sure that you’re not exceeding the 200mg per day limit.

Consider your sleep schedule

If you have trouble sleeping through the night or wake up frequently to urinate, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

Avoid energy drinks

Limit green tea

If you drink green tea, have no more than 1-2 cups per day (and remember to factor it into your total caffeine intake).

Be a detective!

Read labels to understand whether the foods and beverages you consume contain caffeine.

Consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to understand caffeine levels in medications

Rest up!

If you’re feeling exhausted, make sure to get plenty of rest. Instead of reaching for a cup of joe, find time for light exercise and fuel your body with the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, beans and nuts it needs to support you and your growing baby.