Evidence for a harmful effect of caffeine intake on risk of miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) is inconsistent and nausea during pregnancy has been claimed to explain any association seen. The objective of this analysis was to determine whether caffeine consumption both before and during pregnancy influenced the risk of miscarriage in a group of pregnant women in the UK. We examined the association with maternal caffeine intake in a case-control study of 474 nulliparous women. Participants were recruited during the years 1987-89 from the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and from a large group practice situated within the hospital's catchment area. Cases were 160 women with a clinically diagnosed miscarriage and controls were 314 pregnant women attending for antenatal care. Information on coffee/tea/cola consumption and potential confounders was collected by interview and caffeine content was assigned to individual drinks according to published data on caffeine content of beverages. Compared with a maternal caffeine intake of < 151 mg/day, we found evidence that caffeine consumption > 300 mg/day doubled the risk of miscarriage. Adjusted odds ratios were 1.94 [95% CI 1.04, 3.63] for 301-500 mg/day and 2.18 [95% CI 1.08, 4.40] for > 500 mg/day. This effect could not be explained by nausea in pregnancy. Nausea appeared to be strongly independently associated with a reduced risk of miscarriage (test for trend P < 0.0001). There was no evidence that prepregnancy caffeine consumption affected the risk. Our results indicate that high caffeine consumption during pregnancy (>300 mg/day), in particular coffee consumption, is an independent risk factor for increased risk and nausea is an independent protective factor for a lower risk of miscarriage.