Caffeine and Pregnancy: How Much is Too Much?
When a woman learns the joyous news that she is expecting a baby, typically the first thing her doctor will tell her after confirming the pregnancy is a whole long list of “shoulds” and “should-nots”. On that list is usually little to no caffeine, which for many Coke-drinking, coffee-loving women, is a hard rule to swallow.
Caffeine, a naturally occurring substance, is produced by a variety of plants and often added to food and drinks for flavor or for its stimulant characteristics. Caffeine increases alertness, raises blood pressure and heart rate, and increases the amount of urine the body produces. Pregnant women may be more susceptible to the effects of caffeine because it takes their bodies longer to eliminate the substance from their bodies. They may be jittery, experience difficulty sleeping and have issues with indigestion. These issues may be stronger or last longer as a pregnancy develops because a women’s body metabolizes caffeine slower during later stages of pregnancy.
Drinks containing caffeine also contain compounds called phenols that make it harder for a pregnant woman’s body to absorb iron. Many pregnant women are already low in iron so this could be a particularly bad side effect. Experts suggest drinking caffeinated drinks between meals so they will have less of an effect on iron absorption.
The March of Dimes recommended that women who are pregnant, or even women who are currently trying to conceive, consume no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day, or the equivalent of the amount of caffeine in about one 12-ounce cup of coffee or about four 12-ounce cans of Mountain Dew. (Some coffee can contain more caffeine than others though. A grande Starbucks coffee has over 300 mg of caffeine!)
But, caffeine is not found in just the everyday cup of Joe. It is also in coffee-flavored items like yogurt and ice cream, as well as sodas, tea, and chocolate products. This stimulant can even be found in some medications, including over-the-counter drugs for pain relief, migraines, colds, and other common issues. The Food and Drug Administration requires drug companies to list the amount of caffeine in the particular drug and have it clearly stated on the label. Pregnant women are advised not to use ANY medication with caffeine until they speak to a medical professional first.
Large amounts of caffeine have been known to cause miscarriages and fertility problems. Caffeine crosses the placenta and does reach the baby so it can directly affect the baby’s developing cells. It can cause decreased blood flow to the placenta which can also harm the baby. And the effects of caffeine don’t stop once the baby is born. For mothers who consume larger amounts of caffeine during their pregnancy, their babies are more likely to have faster heart beats and get less sleep in the first few days of life.
Though it may be difficult, most medical professionals agree limiting the amount of caffeine in a pregnant woman’s diet is best for her and her baby. there are now more important things than the caffeine high from a coffee shop run.
March of Dimes. Web. 30 November, 2011. “Nutrition: Caffeine”.
Babycenter.com. Web. 30 November, 2011. “Caffeine during pregnancy”.