An espresso a day okay for mums-to-be

"Low-to-medium levels of caffeine consumption is safe is a positive health message" ... Pip Golley.
"Low-to-medium levels of caffeine consumption is safe is a positive health message" ... Pip Golley. 

When it comes to caffeine in pregnancy, moderation is key.

The national health guidelines are clear - alcohol is best avoided when pregnant. But what about caffeine?

In welcome news for many women who love coffee, tea, cola and chocolate, Pip Golley, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says there is no conclusive evidence that low to medium consumption of caffeine can harm an unborn baby.

"The evidence both here and in the US points to the fact that ... one or two espressos a day during pregnancy is safe," Golley says.

Gabrielle Brewer and her children ... coffee a treat in pregnancy.
Gabrielle Brewer and her children ... coffee a treat in pregnancy. Photo: Brianne Makin

NSW Health advises that pregnant and breastfeeding women should limit caffeine intake to 200mg a day. This is equivalent to four mid-strength teas, one or two espressos, or four cans of cola (see list below for more details).

But high levels of caffeine consumption - defined as more than 800mg a day - have been linked to a host of undesirable outcomes including miscarriage and premature births. Although such claims need further investigation, they make confronting reading.

Gabrielle Brewer, mother to Oscar, 2, and Sophia, 1, says she was aware that consuming too much caffeine might not be good for a developing baby, but the possible threat should be put into perspective.

"I weighed things up during both my pregnancies and it seemed that the risks - in my personal situation - weren't that great," she says.

As a lover of dark chocolate, Brewer limited the indulgence to no more than a piece or two every other day. And after an espresso-style coffee each morning, the 36-year-old curbed the desire for a second cup later in the day by drinking herbal tea instead.

But giving up caffeine cold turkey during pregnancy wasn't an option for the public relations consultant. "I stuck to a no alcohol policy as a general rule throughout my pregnancies, so coffee really was my one big indulgence," she says.

Golley agrees with her approach. "I think saying to pregnant women that ... they don't have to go without their one or two coffees a day, and low-to-medium levels of caffeine consumption is safe is a positive health message."

A guide to how much caffeine some common products contain:

  • short black (single shot espresso) - about 110mg per commercial-style serving
  • percolated coffee - from 60-120mg per 250ml cup
  • instant coffee (one teaspoon) - 60-80mg per 250ml
  • tea - 10-50 mg per 250 ml (like coffee it can vary depending on type and how long it's brewed)
  • cola - almost 49mg per 375ml can
  • milk chocolate - 20mg per 100g bar
  • dark chocolate - 70mg per 100g bar
  • hot chocolate - 10mg per 250ml
  • energy drinks - 80mg per 250ml (not recommended during pregnancy)