Caffeine during pregnancy- Is it safe and how much?

Whether it’s from coffee, soda, energy drinks, or chocolate, millions of Americans consume caffeine every day. There have long been concerns about the potential effects of caffeine on mothers and unborn children. Given these concerns, women are advised to avoid large amounts of caffeine when they are pregnant. Consuming a moderate amount of caffeine during pregnancy, however, is safe in most cases. Although conflicting information continues to emerge, this article provides some general information regarding pregnancy and caffeine.

The (potential) Dangers of Caffeine

Estimates suggest that between 75% and 93% of pregnant women consume caffeine on a daily basis (Kaiser & Allen, 2008). Given the prevalence of caffeine intake, it is no surprise that researchers have made a concerted effort to understand the potential effects of caffeine during pregnancy. The results of these studies have been mixed, but here are some potential dangers.

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your blood pressure and heart rate, which is unsafe during pregnancy (American Pregnancy Association, 2011). Consuming caffeine also leads to more frequent urination, which can cause you to lose important minerals (like calcium) that are vital to your baby’s development. Common caffeinated beverages, like coffee and tea, also contain ingredients that make it harder for your body to absorb iron. Caffeine may also cause heartburn and make it difficult to sleep.

Caffeine exposure during pregnancy has been associated with Spina bifida, a condition that occurs when a newborn’s spinal column doesn’t enfold the spinal cord (Schmidt et al., 2009). It has also been linked to increased irritability among newborns (Jacobson, 1984) and hyperactivity in 18 month-olds (Bekkhus et al., 2010). At least one study indicated that ingesting more than 200 milligrams of caffeine doubled the chance of having a miscarriage (Weng, Odouli, & Li, 2008), but other studies have not supported this finding (Savitz, 2008).

How much Caffeine can I have?

            There is little consensus regarding the amount of caffeine that is safe to consume during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association (2011) notes that experts’ recommendations generally suggest that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to between 150 to 300 milligrams per day. In many cases, this equates to one cup of coffee or can of soda (depending on the type and brand). Talk to your health care provider about his or her recommendation regarding caffeine.

Limiting Caffeine Intake

              Many food and beverages contain caffeine. In addition to coffee and soda, caffeine is commonly found in chocolate, tea, and energy drinks. Many herbal products and over-the-counter medications also include caffeine. The amount of caffeine in these products may vary considerably. For example, a single cup of coffee may contain between 95 and 330 milligrams of caffeine. It is important to check for caffeine by reading product labels carefully.

Reducing your caffeine intake will not be easy, especially if you consume large amounts on a regular basis. If possible, it is best to begin gradually limiting your caffeine before you conceive. Many people experience caffeine withdrawal, including headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Drinking lots of water, exercising, or taking medications approved by your health provider can help you manage these symptoms.

Although more research is needed, the best evidence suggests that it is safe to consume caffeine in moderation while you are pregnant. Use the information provided here and talk to your doctor about your caffeine intake.

References

American Pregnancy Association. (2011). What’s the Real Scoop on Caffeine During Pregnancy. Retrieved from: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/caffeine.html

Bekkhus, M., Skjøthaug, T., Nordhagen, R., & Borge, A. I. H. (2010). Intrauterine exposure to caffeine and inattention/overactivity in children. Acta Paediatrica, 99, 925–928.

Jacobson, S. W. (1984). Neonatal correlates of prenatal exposure to smoking, caffeine, and alcohol. Infant Behavior Development, 7, 253–265

Kaiser, L., & Allen, L. H. (2008). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108, 553–561.

Savitz, D.A., Chan, R.L., Herring, A.H., & Hartmann, K.E. (2008). Caffeine and miscarriage risk. Epidemiology, 19, 55-62.

Schmidt, R. J., Romitti, P. A., Burns, T. L., Browne, M. L., Druschel, C. M., & Olney, R. S. (2009). Maternal caffeine consumption and risk of neural tube defects. Birth Defects Research: Clinical and Molecular Teratology, 85, 879–889.

Weng, X., Odouli, R., & Li, D.K. (2008). Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: A prospective cohort study. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 198, e1-8.

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