Can You Drink Decaf Coffee While Pregnant?

A cup of Joe (or more) a day is hard to resist. The enticing aroma and bitter-sweet taste. The much-welcomed energy kick. These are all brew-ti-ful things that make coffee Americans’ go-to beverage of choice. But there are mixed messages concerning how good or bad coffee is for our health, especially for pregnant women.

As an expectant mother, is it safe to grab that latte on your way to work? And what if you’re trying to conceive; is your after-lunch double espresso a no-go? Caffeine and its effects on pregnancy are the subjects of endless debate and confusion. Many women think that switching to decaf may be the answer. In this article, we spill the beans on caffeine, decaf coffee, and their effects on pregnancy.

Ever wondered how much coffee is produced globally every year? It’s around 10 million tonnes. Here in the US, a staggering 62% of us drink it every day. It seems like we just can’t get enough of nature’s nectar. If we’re not drinking it, we’re artificially flavoring other drinks, foods (such as candies and cakes) to taste just like it. The humble coffee bean transforms into an irresistible beverage, and its popularity is unlikely to dwindle any time soon.

Of course, it’s important to know what we’re putting inside our bodies. Most of us are aware that what we consume can significantly impact our short-term and long-term health. Many of us try to eat balanced, nutritious diets and avoid any food or drink that can potentially harm us. And as with other foods and beverages, much debate surrounds the possible health risks (or potential benefits) of consuming coffee. How healthy is drinking even just one cup a day? How much is too much? Does drinking coffee have any adverse long-term effects?

Most pregnant women know that a more health-conscious attitude to food and drink is important. For nine months, nurturing and developing a healthy fetus is their top priority. What they consume can have a significant impact on both their and their baby’s health. For decades, doctors and nutritional experts have constantly been updating the list of substances women should avoid while pregnant. And due to its caffeine content, coffee has been added to the list. But what about decaf coffee; is that a no-go, too? Read on to get the answers to these burning questions.

How much caffeine does decaf coffee contain?
Decaf is short for “decaffeinated.” But many of us falsely think that this means no caffeine. In fact, decaf applies to any coffee that’s had 97% or more of its caffeine removed from the coffee beans during processing. The extraction is not done completely. So, despite the decaf label on the jar, your coffee can still have 3% caffeine in it. This means that, on average, an 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee can contain around 7 mg of caffeine. However, the amounts of caffeine will vary according to the brand of coffee you buy or the coffee shop where you pick your favorite bean brew up from.

Caffeine isn’t just found in coffee. Let’s compare the varying caffeine amounts found in various foods and beverages:

Regular brewed coffee: 90.7 mg per 8-ounce serving
Regular espresso: 126.4 mg per 2-ounce serving
Hot chocolate: 7 mg per 8-ounce serving
Brewed black tea: 47 mg per 8-ounce serving
Energy drinks: 72 mg per 8-ounce serving
Cola: 33 mg per 12-ounce serving
Dark chocolate 12 mg per 1-ounce serving
Milk chocolate 9 mg per 1.55-ounce serving
White chocolate 0mg

Looking at this list of caffeinated drinks and foods, it’s clear that decaf coffee has a minimal amount of caffeine compared to the rest. But it’s important to bear in mind a few facts before reaching for a cup of the hot stuff. Yes, decaf coffee contains far less caffeine. However! If you knock back five to ten cups of it a day, it’s the equivalent of drinking one to two cups of the regular caffeinated variety. Plus, if you’re drinking decaf but consuming chocolate or other caffeinated drinks, the benefits of choosing the former will be outweighed by the latter.

We need to be mindful of this. Why? Caffeine is proven to have certain detrimental health effects on people susceptible to it. These effects can be experienced in the shorter or longer term and include the possibility of heart palpitations, anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure, heartburn, and insomnia. It’s believed that up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is safe for the average adult with no underlying health problems. So, it’s advisable to remember this and check the labels of what you’re eating and drinking each day.

Can you drink decaf coffee while pregnant?
Unfortunately, there are some mixed messages about drinking decaf coffee during pregnancy. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no clear guidelines on the subject. It just suggests talking to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns. The March of Dimes (a non-profit organization advocating for mom and baby health) suggests limiting caffeine intake to 200 mg a day while pregnant. This recommendation means a few cups of decaf a day should be perfectly safe to drink.

But—surprise, surprise—some people claim that consuming even decaf coffee when pregnant can cause harm and potentially increase the risk of miscarriage. The basis of this alarming assertion originates from a 1997 study published by Fenster et al. The researchers investigated the relationship between miscarriage and caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks in 5,144 pregnant women. They found that drinking three or more cups of decaffeinated beverages (as opposed to none) led to a higher risk of miscarriage in the first trimester. These findings were echoed in a 2018 study by Roberston et. al.

Nevertheless, subsequent studies have failed to find such a conclusive link between decaf drinks and miscarriage. This inconclusiveness suggests that there may have been a bias in the data set of the previous two studies. Healthcare providers will rarely recommend cutting out decaf drinks entirely unless the pregnant woman is particularly susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine.

So, if you’re expecting or trying to become pregnant, don’t worry. It’s unlikely you’ll have to sacrifice your coffee drinking entirely. You’ll still get to enjoy the nutty aroma and taste of your favorite coffee drink as long as you opt for decaf. And if you want to be extra careful? Replace decaffeinated beverages with healthier options such as pregnancy-safe fruit or herbal teas. Hot water with lemon and honey or nut milk drinks are also a tasty, healthy alternative. Plus, a massive variety of non-alcoholic beverages have been given the thumbs up as safe for pregnant ladies. There’s never been a better time to experiment and switch things up!

Will I experience any side effects switching from regular coffee to decaf?
We’re not going to lie—stopping your caffeine intake may be a struggle at first. Common side-effects of going cold turkey include headaches, fatigue, and irritability. In some cases, eliminating caffeine can cause anxiety and depression. Throw pregnancy and its various symptoms into the mix, and it doesn’t make for an enjoyable time. Therefore, it’s recommended that pregnant women or those trying to conceive should gradually cut back on their caffeine intake. Remember, you’re allowed 200 mg of caffeine a day in pregnancy, so you can afford to phase the regular coffee out slowly. Getting down to two cups a day is ideal—and then switching to decaf won’t be so hard. Try drinking smaller servings or watering down your coffee with milk or creamer. Give the yummy caffeine-free range of teas that are out there a try. Delicious flavors such as peppermint or chamomile also have other benefits, such as relieving tummy troubles or stress.

The Takeaway
A coffee habit can be hard to shake at the best of times. But when pregnant, it can be an even bigger challenge. Many expectant mothers feel fatigued throughout their pregnancy. That’s when they may start to crave a pick-me-up like a cold brew coffee. Others may simply miss the taste of their once-a-day caffè mocha. But there’s conflicting information on coffee drinking and pregnancy. Many women feel they have to give coffee up completely. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

Certainly, pregnant women need to monitor their caffeine intake. As we’ve mentioned, the generally agreed-upon figure is limiting it to 200 mg a day. A fantastic compromise is opting for a decaf coffee in place of a regular one. Although this doesn’t mean drinking as many cups of decaf coffee as you like, you can still experience the aroma and taste in moderation. And as for women trying to conceive, there’s no conclusive evidence that drinking caffeine decreases your chances of getting pregnant (or that drinking decaf increases the likelihood of becoming pregnant).

It’s important to remember that not all brands or coffee outlets have identical amounts of caffeine in their decaf products. When shopping, check the label of the coffee jar. When at a coffee shop or restaurant, ask your server for the drink’s nutritional information. And this goes for other decaf and caffeinated products, too. As long as you keep within the recommended limit of 200 mg, you can devour a few bites of chocolate and a cup of decaf Americano without worrying about the health of yourself or your baby.

Also, remember that it’s not just the caffeine in certain coffee drinks that can be potentially harmful. The not-for-profit Clean Label Project wants the food industry to put accurate and clear labeling on their products. They have flagged potentially hazardous chemicals present in certain brands of decaf coffee, such as methylene chloride. These chemicals can seriously harm the health of a pregnant woman and her unborn child and should be avoided. The project advises carefully checking the labels of decaf coffee and choosing ones that use a water-based process to decaffeinate their coffee beans. They suggest looking for coffee brands that claim to be solvent and chemical-free, use Swiss water, or are certified organic.

So, if you’re a coffee fiend and find yourself pregnant, don’t despair. There’s plenty of ways to get your coffee fix without putting your or your baby’s health at risk. You can keep potential withdrawal symptoms down to a minimum by diluting your coffee and cutting back slowly (or trying out new beverages completely). And remember, even if you decide to give decaf coffee the old heave-ho for nine months, there’ll be plenty of time to catch up with your old friend Jo when the baby arrives. Trust us, that’s when you’ll really need the caffeine!

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