What happens if I drink more than 200mg of coffee while pregnant?

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate. It is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world. During pregnancy, high caffeine intake has been associated with increased risk of miscarriage and low birth weight. The recommended maximum caffeine intake during pregnancy is 200mg per day, which is equivalent to around 2 cups of coffee. Exceeding this amount may have implications for the health of the mother and baby. However, the effects of higher caffeine intake are not fully understood and results of studies have been mixed. This article will explore what is known about consuming over 200mg of caffeine while pregnant.

Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy

Most health organizations recommend limiting caffeine intake to 200mg or less per day during pregnancy. This roughly equates to 1-2 cups of coffee. Caffeine is able to cross the placenta and enter fetal circulation. The fetus does not have the enzymes needed to metabolize and eliminate caffeine as efficiently as the mother. High levels of caffeine in the fetus may interfere with development and increase heart rate.

However, many pregnant women consume far more than the recommended 200mg of caffeine daily. In the United States, over 15% of pregnant women consume more than 300mg per day. The average intake is around 150mg, mostly coming from coffee. Other sources like tea, soda, and energy drinks also contribute to overall caffeine consumption.

Recommended Daily Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy

Beverage Serving Size Caffeine (mg)
Brewed coffee 8 oz 95
Espresso 1 oz 63
Black tea 8 oz 47
Green tea 8 oz 28
Cola soda 12 oz 35
Energy drink 8 oz 80

As shown in the table, caffeine content can vary substantially depending on the type of beverage. To stay under the recommended 200mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy, intake of coffee, tea, soda, and other caffeinated drinks needs to be monitored and limited.

Potential Effects of High Caffeine Intake

Consuming over 200mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy may potentially impact the health of the mother and baby. Here is an overview of what research has found regarding the effects of excessive caffeine intake:


Some studies have linked high caffeine consumption with increased risk of miscarriage. A 2008 study found that women who consumed over 200mg of caffeine per day had twice the miscarriage rate compared to those consuming less than 200mg per day. However, other studies have not found a clear association between caffeine intake and miscarriage risk. More research is needed, but there may be a connection between very high caffeine intake and increased miscarriage rate.

Low Birth Weight

A number of studies have found that pregnant women with a very high daily caffeine intake above 300mg had an elevated risk of delivering a baby with low birth weight. Low birth weight, defined as less than 5 pounds 8 ounces, may increase the likelihood of health problems. However, not all studies have found this linkage between maternal caffeine intake and low birth weight.

Preterm Delivery

The evidence linking high caffeine consumption and preterm delivery is mixed. Preterm delivery refers to a baby being born before 37 weeks gestation. Some studies have found higher caffeine intake increases risk for preterm delivery, while others found no effect. More research is needed to determine if there is a relationship.

Pregnancy Complications

Results are inconclusive as to whether high caffeine intake is associated with other pregnancy complications like preeclampsia (high blood pressure) or gestational diabetes. One issue is that women who consume a lot of caffeine during pregnancy may have other poor health behaviors, like smoking, which can independently increase risk of complications. Currently there is insufficient evidence to say excessive caffeine alone causes pregnancy complications.

Long-Term Effects on Child

The long-term effects of high prenatal caffeine exposure are not well understood. Limited research has found associations between high maternal caffeine intake and increased risk for childhood obesity and leukemia. However, more studies are needed to determine if too much caffeine intake during pregnancy has lasting effects on child health and development. There is likely individual variation in susceptibility.

Side Effects

Drinking more than 200mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy may cause side effects like insomnia, anxiety, upset stomach, increased heart rate, dizziness, and headaches. At very high doses above 1,000mg, caffeine overdose symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and tremors can occur. Pregnant women may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and feel side effects more readily.

Is Over 200mg Dangerous?

The risks of consuming more than the recommended 200mg of caffeine daily during pregnancy are not fully clear. Most experts consider it prudent to limit intake, but in moderation going over 200mg occasionally may not have significant effects. Here are some key points:

  • Up to 300mg daily is unlikely to cause major harm, but potential risks may start to increase over this amount.
  • Around 400mg per day is considered “heavy” or “excessive” intake during pregnancy.
  • Over 1,000mg daily is considered very high risk and unsafe during pregnancy.
  • The “danger zone” for caffeine overdose with severe symptoms is estimated around 10,000mg in a day – far above typical consumption.
  • Individual sensitivity varies, so some women and fetuses may be more susceptible to caffeine’s effects.

Overall, regularly consuming more than the recommended 200mg of caffeine daily should be avoided during pregnancy when possible. But going over the limit occasionally by a small amount is unlikely to be immediately dangerous.

Alternatives to Reduce Caffeine Intake

For pregnant women who want to limit their caffeine intake but still enjoy their morning coffee, there are some alternatives:

Decaffeinated Coffee

Decaf coffee has around 2-15mg of caffeine per cup compared to 95mg in regular brewed coffee. This allows pregnant women to still drink coffee without exceeding the 200mg caffeine limit. Decaf coffee is made by removing over 97% of the caffeine while maintaining taste.

Half-Caff Blends

Some coffee brands offer half-caffeinated coffee containing around 40-60mg per cup. This may be another option for pregnant women wanting to cut their caffeine consumption without eliminating coffee entirely.

Non-Coffee Beverages

There are many delicious non-coffee beverages pregnant women can enjoy to avoid caffeine, like herbal teas, hot chocolate, juices, smoothies, and decaffeinated sodas. Limiting caffeinated soda and energy drinks is especially important during pregnancy.


One of the healthiest caffeine-free beverages is plain water. Drinking plenty of water during pregnancy is vital anyway to stay hydrated. Carrying a reusable water bottle can make it easier to rely on water rather than caffeinated or sugary drinks.

Tips for Reducing Caffeine Intake

Here are some tips for pregnant women aiming to cut down on caffeine:

– Gradually reduce caffeine intake over a period of days/weeks to avoid withdrawal headaches

– Mix regular coffee with decaf

– Switch to smaller coffee cup sizes like 8 oz rather than 16 oz

– Choose lower caffeine beverages like tea over coffee

– Read labels carefully on sodas, energy drinks, and other products that may contain hidden caffeine

– Avoid caffeine after 2pm to prevent interference with sleep

– Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day

– Treat yourself to a non-caffeinated flavored sparkling water instead of soda

– Get support from your doctor, partner, and friends when cutting back on caffeine


Caffeine crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus during pregnancy. Consuming over the recommended maximum of 200mg of caffeine per day has been associated with increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and potentially other adverse effects. However, results of studies are mixed and more research is needed to fully understand the implications of high caffeine intake during pregnancy. Regularly exceeding 200mg daily should be avoided if possible. But going over the limit occasionally by a small amount is unlikely to be immediately dangerous for most women. There are many ways pregnant women can reduce their caffeine consumption through alternatives like decaf coffee, herbal tea, and non-caffeinated beverages. Limiting caffeine intake takes diligence but can be done with gradual reduction, product substitution, and lifestyle adjustments. Each woman should discuss their caffeine consumption with their doctor during pregnancy to determine what is appropriate for their situation.

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