Caffeine - Its Impact on Pregnancy and Baby

Get Your Hit in Chocolate, Coffee or Tea

Caffeine is the drug of choice for most people in Western culture - and coffee is the medium through which it is most often consumed. However, coffee isn't the only source of caffeine. Here are some other places you can find caffeine:

· Coffee-flavored products (like yogurt and ice cream)

· Black Tea

· Soft drinks

· Chocolate and chocolate products (cocoa and syrup)

· Over-the-counter cough syrups

· Over-the-counter pain medications, headache medications

· Medications to keep you alert

The amount of caffeine found in coffee and tea products depends a great deal upon preparation, types of beans and leaves used, and the style of serving - latte or espresso for instance.

It's In Herbal Products As Well

Herbal products may also contain caffeine:

· Green Tea and green tea extract

· Yerba mate

· Kola nut

· Guarana

Since the US government does not require labeling on herbal products to inform of the amount of caffeine contained in them, the amounts can vary greatly.

How Caffeine Can Affect You

Caffeine is both a stimulant and a diuretic, which isn't such an issue when you're not pregnant. However, for a pregnant woman, these effects can be problematic. As a stimulant, caffeine increases blood pressure  and heart rate - neither of which is recommended during pregnancy. As a diuretic, caffeine promotes the frequency of urination which can lead to dehydration - a very dangerous situation for an unborn baby.

Some people have a greater sensitivity to caffeine than others, and pregnant women may be especially sensitive since it takes so much longer for caffeine to clear a pregnant body than it does for women who are not pregnant. Feeling jittery, indigestion and trouble sleeping are just a few of the possible effects of caffeine on individuals.

Although moderate amounts of caffeine (max. 300mg per day) probably do not significantly reduce the chances of conception, there are some studies that indicate high levels of caffeine (500mg or more per day) are associated with a decrease in fertility and complications in trying to conceive.

How Caffeine Can Affect Your Baby

Caffeine does have an effect upon the baby in the womb. It crosses the placenta and affects the baby's metabolism. While a woman may be able to handle the impact of caffeine on her body, a developing baby cannot metabolize it and as a result there may be changes in the baby's sleep patterns and normal movement patterns.

Caffeine can also decrease the flow of blood to the placenta, which can also harm the baby. Studies indicate that reduced birth weight was more frequent in women who drank more than 300mg of caffeine per day and a study done in the UK in 2008 of 2,635 low risk pregnant women did find that caffeine consumption throughout pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction. Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) causes babies to be smaller than they should be for their gestational age. There are two types of restrictions:

· Symmetric or primary growth restriction is characterized by all internal organs being reduced in size. This type of IUGR accounts for 25% of all cases of IUGR.

· Asymmetric or secondary growth restriction is characterized by the head and brain being normal in size but the abdomen is smaller.

There have been a wide variety of studies and reports done on the effects of caffeine on pregnancy and fetal development. The results have, at times, been conflicting. One study found that women who consume 200mg or more of caffeine daily are twice as likely to have a miscarriage as women who consume no caffeine.

Another study found no increased risk to women who drank between 200mg to 350mg of caffeine per day. A study done in Denmark in 2003 suggested an increased risk of stillbirth for women who drank more than eight cups of coffee a day. However, it has not been proven that caffeine was a factor in the stillbirths.

In light of the many discrepancies and uncertainty as to the exact risks of caffeine and pregnancy, the March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to 200mg or less per day.

Another thing to remember is that caffeine is passed through breast milk as well, so if you are planning to breastfeed, keep caffeine intake down to the very least possible. More than a couple of cups of caffeine can make baby irritable and unable to sleep properly.

Just to be safe, you might want to opt for caffeine free teas and other beverages. These herbal teas have an outstanding flavor and do not contain any caffeine whatsoever, so you do not have to worry about anything being passed on to your baby.

For those who enjoy a warm drink in the evenings, but do not want to be up all night because of the caffeine might also want to go with a caffeine free tea because it can actually help you to sleep, rather than making it impossible.

Err on the Side of Caution

Wisdom obviously dictates that a pregnant woman err on the side of caution - for her sake and for her baby's sake. You can read more on pregnancy and caffeine in this section.

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