The 411 on Caffeine!

But first… coffee. Our fast-paced society has led us toward needing a sip of coffee within minutes of waking up…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Coffee is loaded with antioxidants that help protect our cells from oxidative stress and cellular damage. It also contains beneficial minerals, such as magnesium, niacin, potassium, and vitamin E. That said, it is important to be careful about not over-doing the caffeine, especially if you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or nursing. Tracy Lockwood Beckerman of TLB Nutrition, a registered dietitian and fertility specialist, breaks down the caffeine recommendations for women before, during, and after pregnancy.

When Trying to Conceive

If you are trying to conceive, most experts recommend that modest amounts of caffeine, roughly 200 mg a day, has little effect on fertility but more may delay conception. This is approximately the amount of caffeine in one 8 – 12 oz cup of coffee (see last section below for more details on caffeine references). It doesn’t hurt to be cautious with caffeine when trying to conceive but it’s reassuring to know that you don’t have to cut out caffeine completely during this time.

During Pregnancy

Caffeine’s natural stimulant effect makes our heart beat faster, speeds our digestive system, promotes urination and dehydration, and increases our blood pressure. During pregnancy, all of these side effects occur in our bodies, and our baby’s bodies, as well.  Caffeine can cross the placenta, but it’s unclear if that harms a developing child. Most experts have found that a moderate amount of caffeine seems to be safe during pregnancy, but the research is not conclusive. Until we have a clear conclusion about the effects of caffeine on a baby’s growth and development, it’s safe to limit your intake to 200 mg per day according to the March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

After Pregnancy

Postpartum, most women want to jump back into their caffeine routine (pretty necessary when you’re not sleeping!). Tracy suggests to proceed with caution, and start slowly, because your body may react very strongly to a small amount of caffeine upon initial exposure. Remember to use caffeine wisely. If you find that a cup of caffeine (either through coffee or tea) causes you to become irritable and jittery postpartum, try decaf instead.

If you are breastfeeding, a modest amount of caffeine (roughly 200-300 mg per day) should be okay.  It’s important to be consistent with how much caffeine you had while you were pregnant. For example, if you were drinking 1 cup of coffee throughout pregnancy, stick to 1 cup while breastfeeding. If you were abstaining from caffeine during pregnancy, continue that abstinence. That’s because your baby will be sensitive to the caffeine in the breast milk and may react strongly (meaning more GI stimulation, jitters, agitation, etc).  Plus, your baby doesn’t have the ability to break down caffeine for the first few months, which can lead to caffeine accumulation in the body. Every baby is different so if you notice any drastic changes in your baby’s mood, behavior, or sleeping patterns upon caffeine exposure via breast milk, it may be best to cut the caffeine.

How to know how much caffeine you’re getting

While knowing the guidelines on caffeine intake can be helpful, it’s most helpful if you actually understand how much caffeine you’re actually getting in your typically diet. For reference, a Dunkin Doughnuts® 10 oz coffee has 215 mg, and a Starbucks® 12 oz coffee has 260 mg.  Espresso generally has about 60-80 mg of caffeine per shot. For a comprehensive listing of caffeine amounts in a variety of beverages and snacks, you can use this reference from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Tracy is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and fertility specialist in New York City. She has her own private practice, Tracy Lockwood Beckerman Nutrition and specializes in weight management, women’s health, pre-conception nutrition, pre and post natal, and pediatrics. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Tracy is the nutrition advisor to preconception nutrition company, FertileGirl. Tracy loves going food shopping with her clients and helping them sift through the best and latest food products.  She has been quoted in numerous publications such as Well + Good, Huffington Post, Fox, Shape, Women’s Health, and SoulCycle. Follow her nutrition career on Instagram via @thehappiestnutritionist.