We are all partial to a hot drink, especially tea and coffee, no matter what the weather. In fact, it is estimated that Americans alone drink around 400 million cups of coffee every day. This makes caffeine one of the most popular stimulants in the world.
A molecule of caffeine
Caffeine, the drug component of tea and coffee, is a stimulant. At normal doses, caffeine improves reaction time, wakefulness, concentration and physical coordination.
However, this stimulation effect of caffeine also has a downside. It increases blood pressure, heart and the frequency of urination. This causes a reduction in body fluid levels and can lead to dehydration.
Obviously, these downsides are bad news if you are pregnant because caffeine crosses the placenta to the baby. Although you may be able to handle large amounts of caffeine, the baby can’t!
Miscarriage and underweight babies
One of the documented problems in a 2008 UK study, is that babies exposed to caffeine can be born underweight. In that year, another study also linked excess caffeine intake to miscarriage. On publication of these studies, the UK’s NHS cut the recommended daily caffeine intake for pregnant women from 300mg to 200mg.
Here is a quick guide to what that actually means in terms of cups of coffee and tea:
- Coffee (brewed), 230ml: 95 – 165mg
- Coffee (espresso), 30ml: 47 – 64mg
- Coffee (latte, cappuccino), 230ml: 63 – 126mg
- Tea (black), 230ml: 47 – 50mg
- Tea (green), 230ml: 33mg
However, caffeine is found in other common food and pharmaceutical products as well as tea and coffee. These can include soda drinks, energy drinks, certain types of chocolate and over-the-counter medications. So, if you are restricting caffeine, check labels to monitor your intake.
New study advises to cut out caffeine
Research carried out by Reykjavik University; Iceland reviewed data from 37 previous studies. In 32 of these studies they found that caffeine may have increased stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight.
The researchers suggested that guidelines should be changed to reflect their conclusions. They said, “Specifically, the cumulative scientific evidence supports pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy should be advised to avoid caffeine.”
Not all experts agree
However, not all experts agree that a revision to the current guidance is necessary right now. Talking to the BBC, Professor Daghni Rajasingham, Consultant Obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said, “The findings of this study add to the large body of evidence that supports limited caffeine intake during pregnancy. But pregnant women do not need to completely cut out caffeine as this paper suggests. As the study notes, high levels of caffeine during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and babies having a low birth weight. This may lead to excess weight gain in the child’s early years, which can increase risk of health problems later in life. However, as other and potentially more reliable research has found, pregnant women do not need to cut caffeine out entirely because these risks are extremely small, even if the recommended caffeine limits are exceeded.”
So, you can still enjoy a cup of coffee without the need for panic, but it is just as well to keep within the guidelines if you are pregnant. If you are worried, you can cut down further still by switching to green tea or use decaffeinated options.