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Caffeine in Pregnancy: How much is too much?

Recently I saw an absolute idiot promoting some skinny drinks on instagram whilst very obviously pregnant! And it really pissed me off. I mean, if you read my posts you know that lots of things do that easily and that is generally where my post topics come from :)

I cannot believe the level of stupidity to which some people will go, to shift a few questionable products that probably give you the shits (hence the weight loss). I hate this quick fix culture that has developed as a result of social media platforms in the hands of muppets.

But as a woman, to sit there, pregnant on social media and advocate very heavily caffeinated products for staying ‘in shape’ sends out a really dangerous message. Not only to pregnant women but also to young women. The message says even when pregnant we can’t do anything right when it comes to our bodies (rolls eyes).

Imagine someone taking this post at face value. “She is using it and pregnant, it must be fine”, “caffeine doesn’t harm my baby” or “maybe I shouldn’t be putting on weight like this”.

But it got me thinking…. Do you know why we don’t recommend caffeine in pregnancy? Do you know why we should switch to decaf? Or do you just know that you should be cutting it out?

What is a safe amount of caffeine in pregnancy?

The recommended daily amount of caffeine during pregnancy according to NICE (National institute for Clinical Excellence) is 200mg/day. This is the equivalent of 2 mugs of instant coffee per day.

Why is excessive caffeine consumption in pregnancy bad?

Well, we all know that caffeine is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate and blood pressure. That is why when you have one first thing you feel like you can take on the day. But generally these are not two things we want to increase in pregnancy.

Caffeine is also a diuretic. This means it makes you pee more. The more you pee the more likely you are to become dehydrated - especially if you are one of those people (like me) who struggles to replenish fluids and hit their water intake goals each day.

Does caffeine cross the placenta?

Yes. It can not be metabolised by your baby when it passes through the placenta. So whilst you may be able to handle 6 americanos before 11am (for me that’s the tip of the iceberg) your baby can not. Remember what happens to you happens to baby. So a stimulant to you is also one to your baby!

Does caffeine cause birth defects?

There is a perceived risk between caffeine and birth defects but there is little to no robust evidence that actually backs this up. Studies carried out on animals showed low birth weight, premature labour and reduced fertility.

Is there a link between caffeine and miscarriage?

There are conflicting studies on this to be honest. A couple of good studies were carried out and showers that women consuming an increasing amount of caffeine in pregnancy had a greater risk of miscarriage compared to those who had no caffeine intake. On the other hand there are some studies that show no discernible difference in the risk of miscarriage with caffeine consumption.

What this basically means is that we don’t 100% know. In cases such as these it is always better to err on the side of caution and limit/cut out caffeine intake in pregnancy and switch to decaf. Especially if you have suffered recurrent miscarriages in the past.

Does caffeine cross in to breastmilk?

Yes it does! up to 10% of the caffeine you ingest can be transferred through your breastmilk to baby. The effects can be irritability and sleeplessness. Which is sometimes hard to determine from normal baby behaviour somedays.

The effects vary from baby to baby. It depends on their sensitivity which is usually determined by what mum has drank throughout pregnancy. If she has a couple of cups of coffee in her day through pregnancy, when she has them postnatally there seems to be little difference. However if she has not had any during pregnancy but restarts during the postnatal period the effects can be more obvious.

It really is dependent on your baby. The younger and smaller they are the more obvious the effects seem to be.

Caffeine and overstimulation is also a possible cause of colic (as discussed in this post) and therefore most mums choose to continue their pregnancy regime with caffeine whilst breastfeeding.

What products have caffeine in them?

It isn’t just your morning coffee that has caffeine in it. So many more things rack up the caffeine levels and before you know it you have hit your daily limit!

The amount of caffeine found in some foods and drinks is as follows(NHS 2019):

- 1 mug of instant coffee: 100mg

- 1 mug of filter coffee: 140mg

- 1 mug of tea: 75mg

- 1 can of cola: 40mg

- 1 can (250ml) of energy drink: up to 80mg – larger cans may contain up to 160mg

- 1 bar (50g) of plain chocolate: most products on the UK market contain less than 25mg (may be different in different countries)

- 1 bar (50g) of milk chocolate: most products on the UK market contain less than 10mg (may be different in different countries)

So in a day, you will almost reach your 200mg caffeine limit if you have:

- 2 mugs of tea and a bar of plain chocolate

- 1 mug of coffee and then a can of coke

In short…. caffeine is linked to potential problems in pregnancy. With preterm labour and low birthweight being two of those risk is it really worth it for a coffee or a coke? Decrease your intake and switch to decaf. There are so many good caffeine free products out there anyway. See my post on sensible swaps for ideas. And for god’s sake stay away from any sort of crap weight control products (especially in pregnancy).

Nikki xx

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