Caffeine and Pregnancy

During pregnancy (and while breastfeeding), you should limit the amount of caffeine you have or avoid it altogether if possible. Caffeine, just like all the other substances you consume, crosses through the placenta to your baby. While nutrients and oxygen must continually travel through the placenta to keep your baby healthy, there are many chemicals that can produce a variety of side effects. Alcohol, pollutants and toxic substances are fairly obvious threats to a healthy pregnancy, and it's reasonably easy to avoid them. On the other hand, caffeinated drinks and food are often considered a harmless part of daily life, but the effects of caffeine on a growing fetus are not so clear.

 

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

Opinions can differ when it comes to a safe limit for caffeine in pregnancy. Some experts believe that you and your baby will be fine if you stay between 200 mg to 350 mg of caffeine a day (or two to three cups of coffee), while others recommend you keep it on your list of foods to avoid. The concern in both camps is that, as a stimulant, caffeine raises blood pressure and heart rate, which can be dangerous at all stages of pregnancy. But that's not all: consumed in large quantities, caffeine has been linked to miscarriage, low-birth-weight babies, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), anemia in both mother and baby, pre-term delivery and even fertility problems for women trying to conceive.

Caffeine also can reduce the amount of fluid in the body by increasing the frequency of urination, leading to dehydration in the mother. Since it's so important to stay hydrated in order to keep your body functioning well, it helps to avoid all sources of dehydration -- excessive heat or sun, insufficient liquid intake and diuretics like caffeine. But even if you managed to stay hydrated while you continue to enjoy your daily cup of joe, remember that your baby cannot metabolize caffeine the way you can, which could lead to changes in their sleep pattern or patterns of fetal movement.

Avoid Hidden Sources of Caffeine

Besides coffee, caffeine can be found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and cocoa. It's even an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medications.

If you think that decaf coffee is a perfect substitution for your caffeine fix, think again. Although most brands deliver considerably less, decaf coffee still contains some caffeine. That's not to say it has to be off limits, but do keep in mind that a few cups of decaf will add up to a regular coffee. Also beware of coffee flavored treats like ice cream, and look out for energy-boosting drinks and like some vitamin water and many brands of snacks and breakfast foods.

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