Many pregnant women wonder if it’s safe to drink decaffeinated coffee during pregnancy. Decaf coffee has significantly lower amounts of caffeine than regular coffee, so it may seem like a good way to get your coffee fix without exposing your baby to too much caffeine.
This article provides a detailed look at how much decaf coffee is safe during pregnancy, the pros and cons of drinking decaf coffee, and tips for keeping your caffeine intake low.
Is Decaf Coffee Safe During Pregnancy?
The short answer is yes, moderate amounts of decaf coffee are considered safe during pregnancy by most experts. Decaf coffee is not completely caffeine-free but contains only about 2-15 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup, compared to 95-200 mg of caffeine in regular brewed coffee.
However, opinions differ on how much caffeine from decaf coffee pregnant women can safely consume. Many experts use 200 mg per day as the upper caffeine limit for pregnant women. Going above this amount may increase the risk of miscarriage and low birth weight babies.
Since an 8 oz cup of decaf coffee contains roughly 3-15 mg of caffeine, most experts agree that pregnant women can safely consume 2-3 cups of decaf coffee per day without going over the recommended 200 mg caffeine limit.
Caffeine Content of Decaf Coffee
All coffee contains some caffeine, even decaffeinated varieties. This is because decaffeination does not remove 100% of the caffeine, just most of it. Here’s how much caffeine is found in an average 8 oz cup of decaf coffee from different brewing methods:
- Decaf brewed coffee: 2-15 mg
- Decaf espresso: 3-15 mg
- Decaf instant coffee: 2-12 mg
As you can see, an 8 oz cup of decaf coffee can contain anywhere from 2-15 mg of caffeine on average. The actual amount can vary quite a bit based on the bean origin, roasting and brewing method.
Is Caffeine From Decaf Coffee Absorbed Slower?
Some people claim that the small amount of caffeine left in decaf coffee is released more slowly into your system compared to regular coffee. However, there is little evidence to support this claim.
Studies have found that caffeine from decaf coffee is absorbed by the body just as quickly as caffeine from regular coffee. The rate of absorption depends more on the individual rather than the amount of caffeine consumed.
So you shouldn’t count on any slower caffeine absorption from decaf to help you stay under your daily limit. Assume that the caffeine in decaf coffee will act just like the caffeine in regular coffee.
Pros of Drinking Decaf Coffee While Pregnant
Here are some of the main benefits pregnant women can obtain from drinking moderate amounts of decaf coffee:
1. Provides a Small Energy Boost
While nowhere near the jolt you get from regular coffee, the small amount of caffeine in decaf can still provide a bit of an energy boost.
Many pregnant women report feeling tired and fatigued, especially during the first and third trimesters. The mild stimulant effect from 2-3 cups of decaf coffee can help boost your energy when you really need it.
2. May Enhance Mental Function
The caffeine in decaf coffee may also provide subtle improvements in focus, mental alertness and mood. Again, these effects are much smaller compared to regular coffee due to the low caffeine content.
But the small mental lift might be welcome for pregnant women needing to concentrate at work or school. Just don’t expect the extreme focus and alertness you get from a strong cup of regular joe.
3. Provides Antioxidants
Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the Western diet. The roasting process generates hundreds of bioactive compounds, including powerful antioxidants like hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols.
Decaf coffee contains similar levels of antioxidants as regular coffee. So drinking 2-3 cups per day can significantly boost your antioxidant intake.
Getting more antioxidants from decaf coffee may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in both mom and baby during pregnancy.
4. May Lower Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes After Delivery
Drinking decaf coffee might also benefit mom’s health after delivery. According to a large study published in the journal Diabetologia, consuming at least 4 cups of decaf coffee daily was linked to up to a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.
Researchers think antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in decaf coffee may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce glucose intolerance during pregnancy.
5. Provides Fluids
Staying hydrated is essential during pregnancy. Decaf coffee can contribute to your daily fluid needs, with an 8 oz cup providing about 2.4 oz (71 ml) of water.
Drinking decaf coffee may support hydration and help prevent constipation, which is a common complaint among pregnant women.
6. May Reduce Risk of Depression
Multiple studies have linked drinking coffee with a lower risk of depression, especially when consuming 4 cups or more per day. This seems to be true even when consuming decaf varieties.
Depression affects up to 23% of pregnant women. Drinking a few cups of decaf coffee daily may help lower the risk of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy.
7. Provides Disease-Fighting Compounds
Coffee is one of the major dietary sources of chlorogenic acids, incredibly powerful polyphenol antioxidants with numerous health benefits.
In addition to potent antioxidant effects, chlorogenic acids have been shown to protect cells from damage, reduce inflammation, enhance insulin sensitivity, and improve brain and heart health.
Since decaf coffee contains similar amounts of chlorogenic acids as regular coffee, it can be an excellent source of these protective compounds.
Cons of Drinking Decaf Coffee When Pregnant
Here are a few potential negatives to keep in mind if you regularly consume decaf coffee during pregnancy:
1. Not Completely Caffeine-Free
The main concern with decaf coffee is that it still contains some caffeine. So it could increase your daily caffeine intake to higher than the recommended 200 mg limit if you drink more than 2–3 cups per day.
Too much caffeine raises the risk of restricted fetal growth and low birth weight. Sticking to just 1–2 eight-ounce cups of decaf coffee ensures you stay within safe levels.
2. May Increase Heartburn
Pregnant women often suffer from acid reflux and heartburn since hormonal changes during pregnancy slow digestion. Drinking coffee raises stomach acid levels, which can make heartburn symptoms worse.
If you already struggle with heartburn during pregnancy, switching to decaf coffee may provide some relief. But even decaf can aggravate symptoms in some women.
3. Can Cause Withdrawal Symptoms
If you normally drink several cups of regular coffee every day, abruptly switching to decaf can trigger caffeine withdrawal. This leads to headaches, fatigue, irritability and concentration problems that last for a week or two as your body adjusts.
To minimize withdrawal effects, try slowly reducing your intake of regular coffee over a 2-3 week period while gradually increasing your intake of decaf.
4. Contains Small Amounts of Chemical Solvents
There has been some concern over chemical solvent residues in decaf coffee. Research shows that trace amounts of solvents used in the decaffeination process, such as methylene chloride and ethyl acetate, may remain in brewed decaf coffee.
However, the residue levels are well below limits established as safe by food regulatory agencies. There is no evidence these tiny amounts have any harmful effects.
5. May Increase Cholesterol Levels
Some research indicates that drinking decaf coffee may adversely affect cholesterol levels to a small degree. One study found that consuming an average of 4-5 cups of decaf coffee daily increased LDL “bad” cholesterol and total cholesterol compared to drinking less than 1 cup per day.
However, other studies have found either no change or only negligible differences in cholesterol. More research is needed to understand if and how decaf coffee may impact cholesterol.
Tips for Keeping Caffeine Low During Pregnancy
Here are some tips to help you keep your caffeine intake low if you plan to drink decaf coffee while pregnant:
Choose Swiss Water or Carbon Dioxide Processed Beans
These chemical-free methods remove more caffeine than traditional solvent-based processes. Beans decaffeinated with Swiss water or carbon dioxide contain only 2-12 mg of caffeine per cup.
Watch Your Serving Sizes
Measure your portions carefully and stick to 8 oz cup sizes or less. Consuming larger 12-16 oz coffees can make it easy to ingest more caffeine than intended.
Drink It Earlier in the Day
Limiting decaf coffee to the morning hours helps prevent caffeine interfering with sleep. Caffeine’s half-life (time until out of your system) ranges from 2.5-10 hours.
Avoid Added Caffeine
Watch out for added shots of espresso or other high-caffeine ingredients like chocolate, flavored syrups, and certain tea blends which can increase the caffeine content.
Choose Light Roasts
Light roasts are roasted for less time, allowing them to retain more caffeine than darker roasts. Stick to medium or dark roast beans if you want to further minimize caffeine.
Limit Other Caffeinated Beverages/Foods
Colas, energy drinks, black tea, and chocolate also contain caffeine. To stay under 200 mg daily, you may have to cut back on other caffeinated products if drinking decaf coffee.
Most experts consider 2-3 eight-ounce cups of decaf coffee per day to be safe during pregnancy. The small amount of caffeine found in decaf is rapidly absorbed by the body but is unlikely to exceed the recommended daily caffeine limit if servings are moderated.
Benefits of drinking moderate amounts of decaf coffee during pregnancy can include a mild energy boost, improved mental function, hydration, more antioxidants, and potentially a lower diabetes risk after delivery.
However, downsides may include worsening heartburn, withdrawal symptoms if substituting for regular coffee, and unwanted caffeine if intake isn’t limited. Overall, most healthy pregnant women can safely consume up to 200 mg of caffeine from decaf coffee and other sources each day.
Sticking to 1-2 cups per day, choosing Swiss water processed beans, watching portion sizes, and limiting intake later in the day can all help keep your caffeine levels low if you wish to enjoy decaf coffee during your pregnancy.
|Caffeine Content of Coffee Varieties
|Caffeine (mg per 8 oz serving)
|Brewed decaf coffee
|Decaf instant coffee
|Brewed regular coffee
As you can see from the table, decaf coffee varieties contain much less caffeine than regular brewed coffee, espresso and instant coffee. Sticking to decaf while pregnant can help limit your daily caffeine intake.
Checking the actual caffeine amounts in the decaf coffee brand you drink is also a good idea, as caffeine content can vary. Choosing decaf beans processed via the Swiss water or carbon dioxide methods may further reduce the caffeine content of your brewed coffee.
Be sure to account for all sources of caffeine you consume throughout the day, including soda, tea, chocolate, and medications. Consuming a variety of caffeinated foods and beverages in addition to decaf coffee can easily put you over the recommended 200 mg caffeine limit.
If you normally consume very high amounts of caffeine daily, gradually reducing your intake over a 2-3 week period can minimize withdrawal symptoms. Slowly substituting in decaf coffee while decreasing your regular coffee intake helps your body adjust.
In moderation, decaf coffee can be part of a healthy pregnancy diet. Limiting your portions to 8 oz or less per serving and sticking to just 1-2 cups per day is unlikely to cause adverse effects. But be sure to account for all other sources of caffeine to avoid excessive intake.
If you experience any issues after drinking decaf coffee such as heartburn, irritability, jitteriness or trouble sleeping, try eliminating it for a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve. Since effects can vary individually, pay attention to how your body responds.
Overall, the small amount of caffeine in decaf coffee is not considered harmful during pregnancy for most women. But it’s smart to keep your total daily caffeine intake at or below the recommended safe upper limit of 200 mg.