There are so many no-nos and “good advice” from during pregnancy. One of the questions is about drinking coffee. We asked Sally Collins to investigate.

As a mum-to-be buying your morning latte, are you given disapproving looks from your fellow cafe-goers? Do well-meaning people tell you what you already know – that herbal tea is considered to be a safer beverage and that gentle yoga is an excellent energy booster? It’s hard to give up caffeine with its mildly addictive properties, especially when your hormones are zapping your energy. Yet, whilst caffeine is widely regarded as a no-no during pregnancy, there is no conclusive evidence that proves the dangers of caffeine to your unborn child.

So how do you make up your mind what’s right for you?

Here we delve into the very latest health recommendations and solid scientific research so that you can make your own informed opinion on this issue of caffeine in pregnancy.

What exactly is caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical stimulant found in certain fruit, leaves and seeds. It’s mainly consumed in infusions extracted from coffee and tea plants, but it can also be found in cola, chocolate and energy drinks. When ingested, caffeine heightens the body’s alertness and creates a surge of energy.

How can caffeine affect my baby?

During pregnancy, caffeine is metabolised slowly and crosses the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream. Developing babies lack the enzymes to break caffeine down, so it stays in their bodies causing potentially damaging effects. There’s some debate as to what these effects are and whether or not to switch to a decaf version during pregnancy.   

Fact or fiction: Caffeine causes low birth weight in babies

Research conducted by the Universities of Leeds and Leicester has shown that high levels of caffeine in pregnancy can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can in turn increase their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in adulthood. These findings form the basis of the Food Standards Agency’s current recommendation to limit caffeine intake during pregnancy and keep levels below 200mg a day. This equates to two mugs of homemade coffee or just one from a high street chain.

However, a more recent Norwegian study has thrown doubt on this recommendation by showing that an intake of 200mg of caffeine can still increase the risk of giving birth to a lighter baby. This raises the question of whether caffeine should be cut out altogether during pregnancy.

Fact or fiction: Caffeine causes miscarriage

Surely the most feared risk when pregnant, miscarriage has been shown to be linked to high caffeine intake in some studies, whilst others show conflicting results. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who drank more than 200mg or more of caffeine a day doubled their risk of miscarriage compared with women who drank no caffeine. However, limitations have been pointed out in this study, and further research published in Epidemiology has shown no increased risk of miscarriage in women who drank between 200-350mg of caffeine per day. The jury seems to be out!

Fact or fiction: Caffeine causes premature birth

You may hear people state that caffeine can increase the risk of premature birth, however, research studies do not confirm this. In fact, the Norwegian study found that coffee intake was linked with a marginal lengthening of pregnancy, although it was not clear whether this was caused by caffeine or another coffee ingredient.

So in summary… 

There is little conclusive evidence to show the precise effects of caffeine intake on pregnancy. However, the fact that some studies suggest adverse effects may urge many mums-to-be to err on the side of caution and limit their caffeine intake. Decaffeinated drinks are a safe alternative, as are herbal teas and fruit juices. Just keep an eye on your tea and coffee intake, and stay sensible!

About the author

Sally Collins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.