Pros And Cons of Coffee During Pregnancy
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a while, and have just had the amazing news to confirm that you finally are, about a billion things are going through your head right now.
What should you do first? Who do you tell? How early do you have to book an obstetrician? Just how big are you going to get? What was that rumour you heard about cat poo? Maybe you shouldn’t have had those martinis two nights ago. What are all the foods you’re not allowed to eat again?
There’s of course this overwhelming joy and terror all at the same time; I like to call it ‘joy-ror’ (what do you mean it won’t catch on?). It could be morning sickness that’s making you nauseous or it could just be all the joy-ror. Maybe you can calm yourself a little with a coffee. But now you remember – isn’t there some rule about pregnant women and coffee?
You might not be newly pregnant; you might be well into your first or second trimester and just heard that all that coffee you’ve been having might not be so good for pregnant women and their babies. Or you might be trying to conceive and wondering what affect caffeine is having on your chances. Whatever led you to this article I will try to answer your questions and allay your concerns.
What are the hard and fast rules about coffee and pregnancy?
This is a hard one to answer because medical experts still tend to be split on this and so much is still unknown. Some caffeine may affect your baby; but a certain amount may also be completely safe. Instead, let’s not talk rules – let’s talk guidelines.
Stay aware of what you eat: The idea of this article is to give you clear information and not stress you out at the same time, because the next nine months are going to be stressful enough without my help. In pregnancy there are a number of food and drinks and other things you need to be wary about putting into your system, so you do need to have a level of awareness that you haven’t had to apply much before. To learn about best foods to eat during pregnancy, read here.
Complete No-No’s: Some things are a ‘complete no-no’ like smoking, soft cheese, cold preserved meats, and cookie dough. Some things are in the ‘reduce a lot’ category like alcohol and highly fatty and sugary foods. Some are in the more confusing ‘not in the first trimester, but probably ok after that’ category like certain vitamins and medications.
And while you might be thinking now that this tiny precious bundle is going to take all the truly fun, indulgent things out of your life; you can still have coffee.
What does coffee do to your pregnant system?
The caffeine in coffee (and tea and cola and most energy drinks) increases your heart rate, travels through your liver and bloodstream, increases your adrenaline and as a diuretic reduces your body’s absorption of water.
Additionally your now-pregnant body does not process caffeine the same way your babyless body did; consuming coffee and caffeine products during pregnancy versus consuming prior to pregnancy, the caffeine may:
· Take longer to leave your system,
· Affect your blood flow to the uterus,
· Make you go to the toilet more often and,
· Leave you more dehydrated.
Effects Caffeine has on the foetus
It theoretically has all of the same effects on your baby, but may linger longer in the little one’s system because its liver isn’t big enough to get rid of it quickly like yours does. Caffeine may reduce your baby’s birth weight and may be linked to premature birth and miscarriage. The reasons for premature birth and miscarriage are so many and unfortunately can often never be explained. If this happens to you it could have nothing whatsoever to do with your caffeine intake while pregnant.
There are extensive studies done looking into this area (us pregnant mum’s are reluctant to let our lattes go easily!) but at this stage the results still appear to be conflicting and inconclusive.
How much caffeine is safe?
What experts are saying at this time is that they are unsure of what caffeine can do to your baby, and how much is ok. It is recommended that you try to consume less than 200mg of caffeine a day just to be safe. I’ll talk a little bit more below about what that means in real person language. It doesn’t appear to have any conclusive effect on your ability to conceive however.
Some experts and extremely healthy people will recommend that you don’t have any caffeine while you are pregnant, because it can have some effect on the foetus, similar to the buzz or energy hit it gives you. In an ideal world and if you can do that, fantastic.
But in the real world and if you’ve been consuming relatively high amounts of caffeine to survive your life up until now, it is far better that you try to reduce this intake. Aim instead for lower, more manageable levels without sending your body or your mind into complete withdrawal.
Stress on the mother also affects the foetus, so aim first to be calm and do what you can cope with.
What does sudden caffeine withdrawal do to your body?
Fortunately quitting coffee is not quite as hard as quitting crack cocaine. If you try to go cold turkey your body will react angrily, most commonly with headaches and migraines, body shakes, and changes to your mood such as anxiety, irritability and depression. It will also temporarily affect your cognition and ability to concentrate.
These symptoms generally don’t last more than a few days however. And you don’t actually need to go cold turkey, you can just reduce your intake gradually. Also if you have headaches that you can’t deal with you only usually need a little touch of caffeine to make this go away again; you don’t need a full on binge or to go straight back to your prior highly caffeinated levels.
What are the pros and cons of continuing to drink coffee while pregnant?
There are both pros and cons to sticking with caffeine when you’re pregnant. I have listed some below, but it might be more helpful for you to make your own list. Coffee’s benefits to each woman are individual and varied, as are the drawbacks of trying to go without.
Your mood may be more stable and reliable, which can help given that the pregnancy hormones will be working against you to send you all kinds of loopy.
Your memory and concentration may be better, which again can be hard to regulate once you’re body is more focussed on creating human life than what needs to go on your shopping list.
You may be more awake and alert which can help you to continue to work when all your fatigued body wants to do is sleep.
It can be a nice, comforting familiar treat in a world suddenly turned upside down, where your body is doing whatever it wants and all your favourite indulgences have already been taken away from you.
Not worth the risk: Because of all the extremely hard work your body needs to be going through right now, you should probably limit as much as possible the strange chemicals you put into it, and fuel it as healthily as you can. Especially with the kind of ‘possible’ complications of caffeine intake during pregnancy, is it really worth the risk?
The coffee-HIGH may not be too good for the baby: You know yourself the high coffee can give you, and thinking about that you probably want to minimise that effect on your tiny baby as much as you can.
A pregnant girl’s favourite word; moderation
If you need it, or if you want it, you can still have coffee while pregnant.
You should try not to go over 200mg of caffeine a day. Recommended amounts are either one shot of commercially made espresso, or three instant coffees, or four cups of tea.
Generally soft drink and energy drinks are not recommended at all because of the sugar, and diet versions have this strange fake sugar which is also not good for you, but the amount of caffeine in one or two of these a day should not adversely harm your bub.
Try to reduce your levels to zero if you can. If you can’t, do your very best, and breathe, and don’t be so hard on yourself since stress is equally worse during pregnancy.
Just focus on what you can handle
Your baby needs you now to be the healthiest you that you can. Do not compare yourself to the clean living, whole food eating, pregnant yoga instructor who lives next door. You are different, your body is different and your pregnancy will be different.
You may crave cheeseburgers in the middle of the night. You may end up eating chalk (trust me – it happens). And you may very likely find that because you have to keep living your life, working full-time, dealing with all existing stress plus planning for a small person to come out of you and move permanently into your house in a few months’ time; that you would feel better with a cup of coffee now and then.