For many of us, a morning coffee or cup of tea is an essential part of our wake-up routine. Others prefer a pick-me-up later in the day when energy levels feel like they might be lagging. But what about caffeine during pregnancy?
Many health experts have asserted the need for pregnant women to be mindful of their caffeine intake. Though the risks are low, excessive amounts of caffeine have been linked to pregnancy complications like low birth weight, miscarriage, and in some cases, even stillbirth. For these reasons, high levels of caffeine during pregnancy should be avoided.
The NHS includes caffeine on its list of foods to avoid whilst pregnant, explaining that women who are expecting a baby should have less than 200mg of caffeine a day (2 cups of instant coffee but remember that fresh coffee is higher in caffeine). Some doctors recommend that pregnant women minimize their caffeine intake no matter what amount they consume.
Scientists from Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester have studied more than 1,000 mothers across 41 UK hospitals between 2014 and 2016.
This new study published in November 2020 reports an increase in stillbirth risk for each 100mg of caffeine consumed, suggesting that safe limit guidelines of 200mg as recommended by NHS guidance need to be reconsidered.
Commenting on the research, Dr. Jo Mountfield, a consultant obstetrician and Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:
“This study adds to the body of evidence that supports limited caffeine intake during pregnancy. The study highlights the importance of women being made aware of the risks linked to consuming high levels of caffeine while pregnant, as well as being provided with clear advice about limiting their intake during pregnancy.
“The study also highlights that women are not always aware of the caffeine content in the food and drink they consume, in particular high energy drinks, and therefore helping women to access this information more readily is also important.
“The recommended daily caffeine intake of below 200mg for pregnant women – the equivalent to two cups of instant coffee – is based on extensive evidence in this area, however, the RCOG would support a review of these limits in light of this new study.”
The safest bet is to talk with your doctor about what constitutes safe levels of caffeine for you and your baby.
What foods and drinks contain caffeine?
Tea, coffee, and chocolate are natural sources of caffeine. Coffee is available in several forms, and each one contains different levels of caffeine. For example, instant coffee often has less caffeine than filter coffee. Cola drinks, energy drinks, and some sports drinks also contain caffeine.
Chocolate lovers also need to be aware of the caffeine present in different kinds of chocolate. Dark chocolate has more caffeine than both milk chocolate and white chocolate. It’s important to know that different levels of caffeine are present in different amounts of foods and beverages, which is why you should talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your own daily caffeine intake.
It is also good to know that painkillers like paracetamol can sometimes contain caffeine. Checking the patient information leaflet and talking to your doctor about painkillers and pregnancy are two important steps to take before taking any medicines while pregnant.
What if I need an energy boost?
Decaffeinated beverages, fruit juice, and water are all excellent options to consider if you are weaning yourself off of caffeine while pregnant. Fluids help maintain energy levels throughout the day, so keeping a water bottle handy is always a good idea.
Eating right and getting the rest you need can impact how tired you feel on any given day. A balanced, healthy diet and a proper sleep routine can do wonders for a body, whether you are pregnant or not. As well, many pregnant women find that seeking ways to get more sleep during pregnancy helps with their daily energy levels.