A huge controversy exists about caffeine and pregnancy with some conclusive findings suggesting that higher levels of caffeine intake can have negative effects on pregnant women and their babies. The real question up for debate is: What amount of caffeine is safe? While it is best not to ‘overworry’ about the chocolate bar you may have inhaled last night (yes…chocolate has caffeine), if you find the effects of caffeine on your pregnancy worrisome, perhaps you would be best suited avoiding caffeine altogether.
First, caffeine is a stimulant and a diuretic, so it increases blood pressure and heart rate (not recommended during pregnancy), and causes frequent urination that could lead to dehydration. While you are in control of the exact amount of caffeine that enters your body, your baby is not; caffeine crosses the placenta and acts on your baby just as it acts on you. Normally, the effects of caffeine on an adult wear off in six hours, but in pregnant women, it may take twice as long to leave the body. Also, because the baby is still developing he will not be able to metabolize the caffeine efficiently which could result in altered sleep patterns and movement in the later stages of pregnancy.
In effort to prepare for pregnancy, many women eat better and exercise before conception to ensure that their bodies are healthy and ready for implantation of a fertilized embryo. Some studies have actually found a link between high amounts of caffeine consumption and delayed conception, with women who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine per day twice as likely to have conception delayed a full year or more compared with women who consumed less than 300 mg per day. While low to moderate consumption seems safe, heavy caffeine drinkers may want to start cutting back even when they begin trying for a baby. No studies have been done on the effects of caffeine on sperm.
The under-300 mg per day mark seems to be the safe consumption level even after conception as the fetus grows within the mother. A few studies have been done that show an increase in miscarriage among women who consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day, and other study outcomes of high caffeine consumption included pre-term labor and low birth weight. Many studies done in animals have shown caffeine to cause birth defects, reduced fertility, and other reproductive problems, but human studies are still far behind. Although many women choose to avoid caffeine completely just in case it may have undiscovered effects in any amount, experts believe that moderate caffeine intake (150 mg-250 mg per day) will not have a negative effect on pregnancy.
For those women holding out until the late stages of pregnancy to enjoy caffeine again, the wait may be even longer than expected. Late in the pregnancy, the baby will absorb caffeine from the mother, and at this stage, the caffeine can cause increased fetal heart rate, increased breathing rate, and tremors. Also, babies born to women with high levels of caffeine consumption late in the pregnancy were likely to spend more time awake in the days following birth. Many tired parents of newborns want their babies to sleep well, so the avoidance of caffeine in late pregnancy is essential for the baby to establish good sleeping patterns, and essential for the parents’ peace of mind as well! Even breast-feeding mothers can pass caffeine into their baby’s system, so while low to moderate caffeine levels will not harm the baby, any amount of caffeine will be passed from mother to baby, metabolized by the baby’s system, and may have stimulating effects.
While most women and babies have no negative health effects from low to moderate caffeine consumption, caffeine sensitivity varies in each individual mom and baby. If you are normally caffeine sensitive, take care to avoid it during pregnancy, as the effects of caffeine are greater because it is more slowly metabolized in pregnant women. Avoid caffeine containing foods such as chocolate, coffee flavored ice creams and yogurts, and stick to fruity desserts like pies. Be sure to stay well hydrated with beverages such as decaffeinated tea, juice, and water.
If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, but consuming more than three cups of brewed coffee per day, try to start weaning yourself off of the coffee now, as your body will have a chance to adjust before all of the other changes start taking place. Once pregnant, take care to regulate caffeine intake at safe levels. Know what foods and beverages contain caffeine, and avoid them if you are concerned about the effects of caffeine on pregnancy. Myths do exist about caffeine and pregnancy, so remain calm if you do happen to slip and indulge in cappuccino ice cream; moderate levels of caffeine are safe for you and your baby.