Some people struggle to survive a day without their daily cup of coffee. That is because caffeine is a powerfully addictive drug, yet is one of the most frequently ingested substances in the world with over 85% of adults consuming it on a regular basis. During pregnancy it is strongly advised that caffeine be eliminated or restricted due to its effects on both you and your baby.
What does caffeine do to my body?
Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant, which means that it affects your body through ‘stimulating’ various parts such as your alertness levels, heart rate, sweat glands and gastrointestinal system. In high doses this can lead to serious symptoms such as jitteriness, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, diarrhoea and high blood pressure.
Your body will feel the maximum effect of caffeine usually 1 hour after consumption; however effects can last up to 6 hours. What is worse is that during pregnancy the effects of caffeine linger on even longer, as the body taking longer to metabolize it. This means that the stimulating symptoms may last longer than normal.
Will caffeine affect my pregnancy?
Caffeine readily crosses the placenta and reaches your growing baby easily, exposing your baby to similar levels of caffeine that you ingested. Given that your baby’s organs are still quite immature and developing, their body takes a greater amount of time to metabolise caffeine, meaning that it lasts in their system for longer. If breastfeeding, caffeine passes freely into your breastmilk and will also be ingested by your baby.
Caffeine can particularly affect your pregnancy by:
1. Fetal symptoms – Large amounts of caffeine will affect your growing baby in a similar fashion to you, causing a faster heart rate, tremors, stimulation of gastrointestinal system and interrupting their sleep cycles whilst in utero. If severe, this may affect the growth of your baby and lead to smaller than expected.
2. Increased rate of miscarriage – Studies have shown that a very high intake of caffeine, equating to roughly over 6 cups of coffee per day, has been linked to an increased risk in miscarriage. Consumption of less than 200mg per day has been found to not be a contributing factor to miscarriage. If you are planning on falling pregnant it is advised that you remove caffeine from your diet, or restrict intake to only one cup per day or swap for decaffeinated coffee.
3. Maternal withdrawal symptoms – If you usually consume large amounts of caffeine in your diet and suddenly stop, you may suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and mood changes. These can cause emotional eating or poor food habits, and lead to weight issues.
4. Nutrient deficiencies – Caffeine decreases the availability of calcium, zinc and iron in your body, which means that there is less absorption into your system and places you at risk of developing deficiencies.
What is recommended for caffeine during pregnancy?
In Australia it is recommended that whilst pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not consume in any one day more than:
- 1 cup of espresso coffee, or
- 3 cups of instant coffee, or
- 4 cups of tea, or
- 4 cups of hot cocoa or chocolate, or
- 4 cans of cola drinks.
It is also advised that energy drinks be avoided completely, or any drinks that contain double shots of caffeine.
The most common sources of caffeine in our diet include coffee, tea and carbonated soft drinks. There are some foods however that we are often unaware of that contain caffeine. This table provides a summary of the most common sources:
If you are a ‘caffeine junkie’ then the following tips may help you curb your caffeine intake:
- Try to eliminate all caffeinated beverages.
- Swap caffeinated versions of soft drinks or coffee for the decaffeinated versions to help curb the intake. There are no restrictions on the amount of decaffeinated drinks consumed.
- Mix caffeinated coffee beans with decaffeinated beans together before grinding, creating a mixed variety.
- Limit your consumption of caffeine by preselecting a goal for the number of caffeinated beverages, and aim each day to reduce this until eventually it is zero.
Caffeine can be given up with persistence and determination, and will be far more beneficial for both you and your baby if you can.