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Caffeine and Your Pregnancy

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Caffeine and Your Pregnancy
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Whether your all-time favorite is a handmade double espresso or the gas station special with creamer, the culture of coffee drinking is comforting, exciting, and binding. Like the strong caffeinated tea served in some cultures, coffee is the companion beverage of choice in many countries; it is great shared with friends, marriage partners and co-workers or alone with a good book or a creative task.

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Coffee and tea are seen as the lesser of many indulgent habits and enjoy a status of universal acceptance the world over. This acceptance causes a resistance to taking on board the advice to reduce coffee consumption during pregnancy.

Pregnant women are advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) to limit their caffeine intake to a level considered moderate, between 200-300 mg daily — the rough equivalent of two 8 oz cups of normally brewed coffee[1] . While coffee has the highest levels of caffeine, it is also present in tea and chocolate and this should be taken into consideration when monitoring caffeine consumption.

‘Scientific Opinion’ from the Coffee Companies

The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, whose members are comprised of some of the top coffee companies in Europe, REFUTES the studies that have shown a link between caffeine intake and fetal death[2] . The group believes that caffeine’s reputation has been unfairly maligned because pregnant women more frequently report health issues due to their increased vigilance. They also believe caffeine’s reputation has been damaged by the media’s understandable interest in the issue: “Studies of pregnancy loss and fetal growth have generated more interest due to the frequency with which adverse effects are reported in connection with caffeine use.”

The Bad News: Increased Risk of Low Birth Weight

A Biomed Central study published in February 2013 concludes, however, that caffeine intake is consistently associated with decreased birth weight and increases the chances of a baby being small for his/her gestational age. More importantly, these findings were reported using levels of caffeine much lower than what is considered moderate by ISIC and WHO. In the study, the average caffeine intake of mothers was only 44 mg/day at gestational week 17 and 62 mg/day at gestational week 30. It was also found that caffeine from coffee, but not caffeine from other sources, was associated with marginally prolonged gestation. The study concluded that a “moderate” caffeine intake of 200-300 mg/day actually increases the odds of a fetus being small for its gestational age, as compared to a caffeine intake of 0-50 mg/day[3] .

The British Medical Journal also published a report from the CARE Study Group in 2008, which found that caffeine consumption before and during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction. “Sensible advice would be to reduce caffeine intake before conception and throughout pregnancy,” the group added[4] .

Alternatives

Catering to those who want to limit their caffeine intake while living in a coffee culture, the alternative market has put numerous natural coffee substitutes online and in health food stores. The resulting tastes vary by formula. Some even claim to taste just like coffee. More adventurous consumers blend their own, using simple ground and roasted barley. The best properties of caffeine-free herbal and grain beverages, however, are the vitamins and minerals that provide long-lasting energy and strength, unlike stimulating coffees and teas.

But that isn’t the case for all caffeinated coffee substitutes. Most people believe they are making a healthier choice by drinking decaffeinated coffee, but manufacturers soak the highly acidic coffee bean known as Robusta (as opposed to the more common form, Arabica) in harsh chemical solvents to remove most of the caffeine. Studies have revealed that replacing regular coffee with decaf raises the risk for rheumatoid arthritis[5] and heart disease[6] , due to the high dose of chemicals.

Pregnant women making a switch to all-natural, solvent-free coffee-substitutes might be bad news for coffee producers — who themselves have thus far failed to produce healthy decaffeinated varieties, but such an alternative choice could be great news for mother and baby.

Everyone wants an uncomplicated pregnancy and a joyous little one after delivery. Healthy and stimulating coffee alternatives are out there. With a little bit of experimentation, you’re sure to find one that’s right for you during this special time. 

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