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Maternal and child health
Maternal caffeine consumption and pregnancy outcomes: a narrative review with implications for advice to mothers and mothers-to-be
  1. Jack E. James
  1. Psychology, Reykjavik University, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Jack E. James, Psychology, Reykjavik University, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland; jack{at}


Objectives Caffeine is a habit-forming substance consumed daily by the majority of pregnant women. Accordingly, it is important that women receive sound evidence-based advice about potential caffeine-related harm. This narrative review examines evidence of association between maternal caffeine consumption and negative pregnancy outcomes, and assesses whether current health advice concerning maternal caffeine consumption is soundly based.

Methods Database searches using terms linking caffeine and caffeinated beverages to pregnancy outcomes identified 1261 English language peer-reviewed articles. Screening yielded a total of 48 original observational studies and meta-analyses of maternal caffeine consumption published in the past two decades. The articles reported results for one or more of six major categories of negative pregnancy outcomes: miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, preterm birth, childhood acute leukaemia, and childhood overweight and obesity.

Results Of 42 separate sets of findings reported in 37 observational studies, 32 indicated significantly increased caffeine-related risk and 10 suggested no or inconclusive associations. Caffeine-related increased risk was reported with moderate to high levels of consistency for all pregnancy outcomes except preterm birth. Of 11 studies reporting 17 meta-analyses, there was unanimity among 14 analyses in finding maternal caffeine consumption to be associated with increased risk for the four outcome categories of miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, and childhood acute leukaemia. The three remaining meta-analyses were also unanimous in reporting absence of a reliable association between maternal caffeine consumption and preterm birth. No meta-analyses were identified for childhood overweight and obesity, although four of five original observational studies reported significant associations linking maternal caffeine consumption to that outcome category.

Conclusions The substantial majority finding from observational studies and meta-analyses is that maternal caffeine consumption is reliably associated with major negative pregnancy outcomes. Reported findings were robust to threats from potential confounding and misclassification. Among both observational studies and meta-analyses, there were frequent reports of significant dose–response associations suggestive of causation, and frequent reports of no threshold of consumption below which associations were absent. Consequently, current evidence does not support health advice that assumes 'moderate' caffeine consumption during pregnancy is safe. On the contrary, the cumulative scientific evidence supports pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy being advised to avoid caffeine.

  • behavioral medicine
  • child health
  • policy
  • substance-related disorders
  • women's health

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it appeared Online First. Table 2 has been removed, and minor changes have been made to the paragraph preceding the Conclusions section.

  • Contributors JEJ is the sole author of the submitted article.

  • Funding This manuscript was prepared in the course of the author’s employment as a Professor at Reykjavík University.

  • Disclaimer No additional or dedicated funding was received.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. All source materials for this review are available through publicly-accessible sites.

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