A Study in Pregnancy Guilt: Coffee

I’m pretty clueless about the whole pregnancy thing. Among my close friends and family, I am the first person to have a baby in a really long time. The last baby I spent a lot of time around – my cousin Maddie – was born in 2000, and no, I can’t recall a lot more about my aunt’s pregnancy except that she had a rockin’ baby shower with really cute invitations.

That means that I’ve been introduced to “pregnancy culture” (ie, popular obsessions anchored in fear and “my pregnancy was done right” one-up-manship) through movies, TV, and other equally artificial sources of information, not real baby-fearing preggo women who are spurred on by a genuine concern that they’re doing the right thing regarding their pregnancies. Some women complain that they get sick of hearing unsolicited pregnancy myths and legends from family, friends, and even strangers, but I could use it every so often. At least they truly believe in their wacko nuggets of wisdom and possibly have good intentions.

So cute, so innocent

When I first learned of the pregnancy, the first thing I decided I needed to do – because it’s what Pam did on The Office – was give up coffee cold turkey. I thought that if I didn’t, the baby’s growth would instantly be stunted for life, I would egg on a birth defect, I would miscarry. The list of my unexamined maybes just goes on and on. Yeah, that lasted about 20 minutes. Several facts:

  • The Office is a hilarious show, but
  • No matter how sane the character of Pam may be on the show, one cannot realistically model one’s very real pregnancy on her fictitious one, therefore
  • Consult your doctor, silly girl.

I love coffee. Far from being an “addict” who uses it to regulate all facets of my life, I sincerely enjoy it and take a lot of pleasure from drinking it. Although I am a reasonably self-controlled person, it’s hard for me to resist it when it’s sitting there in my pantry waiting to be consumed.

So I drank a diluted cup a day and felt massively guilty because that was how I was supposed to feel, right? Guilty because I was putting my own craving before the well-being of the baby. Guilty because I was a freak of nature whose only desire was to drink coffee even when all other foods made me want to vomit. What’s next, Emily, cocaine?

"Drink me."

Honestly, a lot of my guilt was rooted  in my conception that I needed to make a bigger deal out of everything now that I was pregnant. I felt as though the pregnancy code of conduct was now my gold standard and that compulsory, public self-flagellation was the best punishment for any deviation from it. While it is true that pregnant women should carefully examine their lifestyles and what they put in their bodies, I soon realized that I shouldn’t arbitrarily blow things completely out of proportion simply because that’s just what it seems like I should be doing as a pregnant woman.

Incidentally, this is where I think a lot of pregnant women who talk about their pregnancies all the time and relate it to every single aspect of life start to get on every non-pregnant person’s nerves.

I realized that I had made a whipping boy of my scant coffee consumption when our friends were visiting us several weeks ago. One morning when we were all having breakfast, I had a cup of coffee and kept on apologizing for myself in a very falsely self-effacing way. At the end of my little production, our friends were like, “It’s not a big deal. My <insert sister, cousin, friend> drank coffee during her pregnancy with no problems.”

That began to put me in my place. Instead of beating myself up everyday because of my consumption of the “deadly” brew, I loosened up and started being reasonable. I’m at fourteen weeks now, and I am continually working on not excessively worrying over things just because I have a “duty” to worry over them because I’m pregnant. I’m trying to practice a lot more discretion and skepticism over the many, many gray areas of pregnancy that people tend to moralize.

As with anything having to do with your specific pregnancy, you should consult your doctor. What did my doctor say when I asked him about my caffeine consumption?

“You’d have to do something ridiculously outlandish to put you and your baby at risk.”

I’ll take that.


  1. Your doctor is right, but I so get where you’re coming from. I remember getting really freaked out one day in the beginning of my pregnancy because I ate a sandwich with feta cheese on it and I didn’t know if it was pasteurized or not. Needless to say, everything was fine and I was just being ridiculous.

    You might like this article:

    It’s about a lady who learned to get over her pregnancy guilt by reading an old pregnancy book from the 60s.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. What a great article! It made me think of how my best friend’s grandmother was prescribed diet pills back in the 60s so she could keep her weight gain under control during her pregnancy. (Her husband promptly threw them in the garbage.) It really goes to show that pregnancy advice is, like many things, very situated in its own time. Almost no topic is free from dated trends in health and superstition.

  2. Glad you’re enjoying your coffee now! I live with a pediatrician, so he’s my go-to for most questions. I’ve been drinking one cup of French pressed coffee every morning, and occasionally, like, maybe 3 times in 10 weeks, I’ve also had a Pepsi Throwback on a particularly rough afternoon. So far, so good. With all of this stuff, everyone’s generally just guessing because they really don’t let people do experiments on fetuses. The only thing my husband has a zero tolerance policy on is alcohol. Some folks will say that a glass every now and again after the first trimester is a-OK, but there’s no established safe limit. I really miss red wine and my beloved bourbon. Oh, and raw sushi. I miss that too.

    1. How lucky you are to be in such close proximity to an MD! I could only be so lucky; my husband is a college English instructor so he won’t really come in handy professionally until the baby starts diagramming sentences ;) I agree on the alcohol thing, absolutely. When we first found out we were pregnant, B didn’t even like me taking communion until we had had that discussion with the doctor. He obviously said it was ok. It is nice to have a husband who is as neurotic as me on some things.

  3. I had salmon sashimi a couple times (the first time was before I knew I was pregnant). I don’t feel too guilty. I figure that since I didn’t get food poisoning from it, munchkin is probably okay =P

    1. Wow that sounds good. Unfortunately I have a weakness for tuna sashimi and I wouldn’t want to risk eating that. But I could bend the rules for salmon…..

  4. I am so glad to hear that your doctor was visit went well and that he was helpful! Also, that picture you took with the coffee beans is so darling! I am totally with you on the coffee front, and I think you are doing the right thing:) As soon as Bebe is born, we will make a huge pot of coffee and drink it while (s)he is sleeping. If you are not sleeping too:) Are you supposed to abstain while you are breastfeeding? I never thought of that before, but now I am wondering.

    1. I don’t think you have to abstain, per se, but as with alcohol during breastfeeding, you just have to make sure it’s out of your system when it’s time to feed.

  5. I started out my pregnancy paranoid about eating and drinking many of my favorite foods. I am still trying to be reasonable about the risks that I take, for example not taking chances with drinking alcohol, but I have definitely loosened up a bit. I was making myself crazy.

    It is pretty interesting to see how people in other countries react to my pregnancy “rules”. I tried explaining that I couldn’t eat some of the foods that were served to me during my last trip to China and my hosts definitely thought I was a lunatic.

  6. My doctor told me no caffeine, but I’d had miscarriage. Then, when I got terrible migraines in the fourth month, he told me to drink caffeine to get rid of the headache. Oy! Was I confused. That was more than 16 years ago, though. Fortunately, didn’t have to give up caffeine when we adopted from China.

  7. As someone who doesn’t like to be told what to do, I didn’t even want to ask my doctor if I was allowed to have coffee (it was my last vice left, giving it up was OBVIOUSLY non-negotiable) but I finally did ask about it and was told that I could have two regular sized cups per day. I think she felt that she had to stress “regular cups” because she saw the coffee keg I had placed on wheels was pulling around behind me…

    1. I think I am going to pretend that your doc is MY doc because I am liking the sound of two cups rather than the one cup they’ve got me limited to :)

  8. THIS. So much of this. It’s so amazing how powerful and instant the pregnancy guilt is – even before I had told anyone!

Now you can hold the magic talking stick.

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