Can You Drink Soda While Pregnant?

If you've decided to stop drinking coffee while expecting, soda may seem like the best alternative for an energy boost. But is drinking soda safe for your growing baby?

Pregnant Woman with Coca Cola Soda
Photo: Getty Images

Of all the things we're expected to give up during pregnancy, coffee is the most difficult for many people. But the research is clear: Even moderate amounts of caffeine can increase risks to the fetus. Some pregnant people may reach for soda as a replacement for their morning cup of joe, but is that really any better than coffee? Not necessarily, say the experts. Here's what you need to know about drinking soda while pregnant.

Is Caffeine in Soda Safe While Pregnant?

In general, anything more than moderate caffeine consumption is frowned upon during pregnancy; that's less than 200 milligrams per day, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).

A 2021 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that pregnant people who consumed the caffeine equivalent of just a half a cup of coffee daily, on average, had smaller babies than people who did not regularly consume caffeine. Previous studies have suggested that high caffeine consumption during pregnancy may be linked to birth defects, premature labor, reduced fertility, and miscarriage.

Researchers believe caffeine restricts blood vessels in the uterus and placenta, "which could reduce the blood supply to the fetus and inhibit growth," according to the National iInstitutes of Health. "Similarly, researchers believe caffeine could potentially disrupt fetal stress hormones, putting infants at risk for rapid weight gain after birth and for later life obesity, heart disease and diabetes."

Coffee is usually singled out as the biggest caffeine culprit, but of course other popular products contain the ingredient—most notably many types of sodas. So how do the two compare? The truth is, you'd have to drink a lot of soda to hit 200 milligrams of caffeine. While the caffeine content varies based on the type of soda, you'll find anywhere from 34 milligrams (in Coca-Cola) to 54 milligrams (in Mountain Dew) of caffeine in a 12-ounce can. That means you'd have to drink nearly six cans of Coke, for instance, to surpass the recommended caffeine limit.

Keep in mind that caffeine can be sneaky. Some hidden sources of caffeine may include tea, chocolate, energy bars, and some medications. Consider all potential caffeine sources when calculating your daily intake to be sure you don't exceed 200 milligrams.

Is Sweetener in Soda Safe While Pregnant?

Caffeine isn't the only problematic ingredient in soda; sweeteners are also a big cause for concern during pregnancy. Research has linked a high simple sugar intake during pregnancy to problems including gestational diabetes, excessive gestational weight gain, preeclampsia, and preterm birth. Considering that the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day—and that just one can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar—it's clear that full-sugar sodas are far from a healthy choice for anyone. That's especially true for someone focused on avoiding excessive weight gain while delivering healthy nutrients to their unborn child.

But what about diet sodas, which replace real sugar with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame? While the research is inconclusive, one study found that children born to parents who drank artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy were twice as likely to be overweight by their first birthday. Most experts agree that more research is needed on the effects of ingesting artificial sweeteners during pregnancy. But as with any questionable ingredients or practices during this time, it's always better to err on the side of caution.

Alternatives to Soda During Pregnancy

When you're craving a pick-me-up, some experts recommend skipping soda and getting your caffeine fix elsewhere. "I'd opt for a small cup of coffee or tea instead," says Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., C.D.N, a dietitian in New York City and author of Feed Your Family Right.

There are plenty of other beverages that should satisfy your urge for something fizzy and/or sweet. Try flavored sparkling water, juice, or smoothies when you want to sip something besides water—just be sure to keep an eye on the sugar content. For a guilt-free beverage with a surprising amount of flavor, try infusing water with your favorite fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

The Bottom Line

Drinking soda when you're pregnant may not be the best thing for you, but it certainly isn't the worst. "There's no measurable risk to having an occasional soda," says David Elmer, M.D., an OB-GYN at Nantucket Cottage Hospital in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Still, it's best to indulge in small amounts. Try to limit soda to one can or less per day, and remember to keep track of how much caffeine you're consuming overall. As Dr. Elmer says, "the best principle in a pregnancy is to do anything in moderation."

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