The effects of Caffeine during Pregnancy

What effect does Caffeine have on the human body?

Caffeine is a substance that stimulates the central nervous system of the body in a mild manner. Effects of acetaminophen, aspirin and other such analgesics, increase due to the intake of caffeine. It helps in avoiding sleepiness among people. It can also work as medication to treat migraine as it slightly widens the vessels.

Side effects:

Caffeine can produce certain side effects depending on the period of time over which a person may have been consuming it. The intensity of the effects also differs from person to person depending on the amount of caffeine intake.

Short term –

  • Thirst
  • Heart burn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach upset
  • Jitteriness
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart rate increases
  • Increase in frequency of breathing
  • Rash
  • Itchiness
  • Swollen face and lips
  • Urinary inconsistence may become aggravated
  • Irritable bowel syndrome may become aggravated
  • Increase of blood pressure in a transient manner
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Diuretic stimulation leads to frequent secretion of urine
  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Restlessness
  • Pre menstrual syndrome gets aggravated

Chronic Side effects –

  • Abdominal pain
  • Tingling sensation around the mouth and in the fingers
  • Palpitations
  • Anorexia
  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Restless leg syndrome becomes aggravated
  • Depression
  • Risk of fibrocystic breast disease increases
  • Symptoms of schizophrenia become aggravated

Caffeine intoxication and Overdose –

Caffeinism or acute caffeine intoxication refers to a situation when an individual experience certain side effects as a response of the overdose of caffeine consumption. The quantity of caffeine that can result in overdosing differs for different people as they may have different thresholds for intoxication.

Following are the symptoms of chronic caffeine intoxication and overdose:

  • Fever
  • Facial flushing
  • Dilate pupils
  • Trembling of the hands
  • Tinnitus – ears have a ringing sensation
  • Headache
  • Hyperventilation
  • Fingers and toes have a tingling feeling
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Fear
  • Pounding heart
  • Rare – hyperglycemia, muscle disintegration, heart attack, stroke, death, etc.

Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal:

Withdrawal is a phase that begins to appear in the individuals in the form of physical and mental side effects when they stop the consumption of any substance that their body may have gotten used to. For Caffeine consumers, the symptoms of withdrawal begin to emerge within 12 – 24 hours after their last intake of the substance. The symptoms of withdrawal are seen in people who may have taken caffeine for at least three days, consecutively. The symptoms include apathy, restlessness, flu-like symptoms, headaches, stuffy nose, weakness, fatigue, etc. The withdrawal symptoms can last for a period ranging for three hours to a week.


Caffeine tolerance develops very fast among most people. This tolerance is applicable for both, the harmful effects such as insomnia, high blood pressure, etc. as well as the beneficial effects like alertness.

Following is a list of food and beverages and the corresponding caffeine content in each of the items:

  • Espresso coffee – 40mg
  • Brewed or Arabic coffee – 100 mg
  • Instant coffee – 70 mg
  • Fruit or herbal tea – 0 mg
  • Oolong, white, green, black tea – 30 mg
  • Root bear, caffeinated drinks, cola, soda – 40 ml
  • Energy drinks (per can) – 80 ml
  • Dark chocolate – 23 mg
  • Milk chocolate – 6 mg
  • Dark chocolate coated with coffee jelly beans (40 gm) – 335 mg

Herbal products and Medicines that contain Caffeine:

Medicines –

  • Diuretics
  • Weight loss pills
  • Analgesics
  • Dietary supplements
  • Stimulants
  • Medication used to treat migraine

Herbal products that contain –

  • Green tea extracts
  • Kola nut
  • Guarana
  • Yerba mate

It is advisable for people to consult their doctor before consuming any product that contains caffeine as medicines or herbal products to ensure that they do not suffer from caffeine intoxication and other complications related to it.

What amount of Caffeine intake is safe during Pregnancy?

Usually, doctors advise women to limit daily caffeine intake to 200 mg per day during pregnancy, to avoid any complications. This restriction is necessary because the effects of caffeine on the growing fetus remain unknown up to the present date. Therefore, it is safe to limit the consumption of caffeine to small amounts.

Risks during Pregnancy (first and third trimester):

  • Lower birth weight, especially in boys due to caffeine consumption in the third trimester of pregnancy
  • Increase in the risk of spontaneous abortion is case of non smoking women who consume more than 100 mg of caffeine per day
  • There is an association of heavy caffeine consumption throughout pregnancy with a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome

Effect of caffeine on birth outcomes:

  • Risk of low birth weight increases up to two times as a result of an intake of 150 – 300 mg of caffeine per day on a regular basis
  • Increase in the risk of retarded growth of the baby due to the consumption of 100 mg of caffeine per day
  • Low birth weight as a result of 400 mg of caffeine intake throughout pregnancy which may include smoking, alcohol intake, etc.
  • Stark difference in the birth outcomes of women who had a trend of caffeine consumption and those who did not have such consumption patterns during their pregnancy
  • Risk of low birth weight increases up to 4 times among women who consume 400 mg and above quantity of caffeine daily during their pregnancy

Irritability and ADHD in children:

  • No proven connection between behavioral problems and hyperactivity in children and the consumption of caffeine by their mothers during pregnancy
  • Caffeine withdrawal symptoms of vomiting, irritability, etc. may be seen in children and last for a few days after the delivery due to regular consumption of caffeine during pregnancy

Birth defects:

There was no connection proven between birth defects in babies like the formation of cleft palate in babies and the consumption of caffeine by the mothers during pregnancy.

Caffeine is a category C pregnancy drug and it is possible that it may cause harm to the growing fetus. However, the effects of caffeine on the baby due to consumption of the substance during pregnancy are not proven. Yet, it is advisable to limit the intake of caffeine to avoid any side effects.

Important facts:

  • Baby’s heart rate may increase as a result of the caffeine getting across the placenta
  • Some studies indicate a relation between the high risk of miscarriage and low birth weight in babies due to caffeine consumption

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