Pregnancy makes you tired — and let’s face it, it’s tempting to try to rev yourself up with a cup of java if you feel like you are really dragging! Before you reach for that next latte, though, you’d better read on to find out about the great caffeine debate — and whether or not it is dangerous for pregnant women to drink up.
The Debate Goes On
The debate over the use of caffeine during pregnancy is nothing new — doctors have actually be arguing about it for decades and have issued warnings about it going back to the 1970s. But even after decades of research, much remains unclear. There is evidence to show, for instance that women who are trying to get pregnant should not be slugging down cappuccinos right and left. And because some studies have linked excessive caffeine to bad outcomes for the baby, the March of Dimes — one of America’s leading organizations that promotes the health of unborn babies — recommends that, to be on the safe side, women limit their caffeine intake to around 200mg a day.
The Argument Against Caffeine During Pregnancy
While some coffee addicts will groan to hear this, there really is serious clinical evidence to show that high levels of caffeine really are bad for baby.
- In one, highly publicized study which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, it was found that women who regularly consumed more than 200mg of caffeine daily doubled their risk for miscarriage.
- In another study in Denmark, where coffee consumption among women is considered to be higher than average, researchers discovered that women who consumed 8 or more cups of coffee a day also doubled their risk for stillbirths.
- Yet another study found that consumption of over 500mg of caffeine daily lead to an adverse effect on fetal heart rate and respiration; it also found that these infants had more problems getting to sleep in the first few days of life.
These studies have focused in on the negative effects that caffeine can have on the baby. But it can have an effect on the mother as well. Research has found another problem with a caffeine: it makes it harder for a woman’s body to absorb iron, which she desperately needs when she is pregnant, both for herself and her baby. A decrease in the ability to absorb iron can easily lead to anemia, which is dangerous for pregnant women. Caffeine can also increase the mother’s heart rate and cause jitteriness and insomnia.
The Other Side of the Coin
They call the debate over caffeine in pregnancy a controversy for a reason. For one thing, evidence over the years has sometimes been conflicted and though the 2008 study got a lot of media attention, other studies which looked at caffeine in pregnancy did not find a relationship between caffeine usage and miscarriage. It should also be pointed out that the link between caffeine and low birth weight is inconclusive at best and that there is no link between caffeine and premature birth or adverse maternal conditions like gestational high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.
It is this evidence that has lead many to argue that caffeine does not pose as much of a health threat as many women seem to think.
Even a position statement issued by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a little ambivalent. In this statement, based on the latest evidence, the committee concluded:
- Caffeine consumption of under 200mg a day has not been linked to miscarriage, stillbirth or other adverse fetal outcomes.
- The relationship between caffeine consumption and fetal growth has yet to be proven either way.
- Further evidence is needed to determine if high levels of caffeine consumption are a risk factor for miscarriage.
The Best Ways to Cut Down on Caffeine if You’re Pregnant
If you are pregnant and have decided to at least cut down on your caffeine consumption, you might be wondering just how to go about doing this. Here are some tips to help you out:
- Don’t stop caffeine all at once. Getting cut off from the daily supply of java can be really stressful for your body — and lead to some pretty epic headaches. If you are wanting to cut down, do it gradually by adding some decaffeinated coffee to the regular coffee when you brew it up, or simply making the coffee a little weaker.
- Consider switching to teas like green teas which have less caffeine — and offer a great array of antioxidants for you and your baby.
- Read the labels on the foods and drinks you buy. It’s not just coffee that you have to worry about! Non-herbal teas, soft drinks, energy drinks, some medications and chocolate in any form has caffeine as well — and it can really add up! An 8-ounce cup of regular brewed coffee, for example, has around 95-200mg of caffeine, while a cup of green tea has 75 mg and just one ounce of dark chocolate has 23mg. If you are trying for a 200mg/day limit, that can add up in a hurry if you don’t keep track!
- Don’t start drinking any herbal teas until you talk to your ob-gyn first. Some teas such as ginger tea are great for pregnancy as they can help with motion sickness – but some can be bad for your growing baby. Always make sure before you buy.
- Make sure that you are drinking an adequate amount of water everyday and not replacing water with coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages. Staying hydrated while you are pregnant is extremely important for the health of the baby.
So can pregnant women drink coffee? The safest answer is probably yes — in moderation. The restriction should be considered to be part of a wider plan for good nutrition during pregnancy, which should include plenty of water as the main beverage as well as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy and whole grain products. So far, clinical evidence has not shown consumption under 200mg a day to be unsafe for an unborn baby, so women following the March of Dimes recommendation can be somewhat assured that this habit will not have an adverse impact on their growing child.