Pregnancy is a delicate time in a woman’s life as she has to eat for two, keeping in mind fetal development and her overall health simultaneously. During this time doctors advise women on various things that they can and cannot do, making women extra cautious about the food they consume and the activities they can pursue. One such concern is about whether drinking coffee will do more harm than good due to its caffeine content that poses potential risks for the unborn child.
Various guidelines on how much caffeine is acceptable for pregnant women to drink all say that it is safe for women to consume between 200 to 300 mg every day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and The National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia recommend not exceeding 300 mg per day, but this is pending review.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggest limiting caffeine intake to 200 mg or less per day. According to advice outlined by EPSA, three cups of instant coffee is okay for pregnant women to drink. However, EPSA says brewed coffee contains more caffeine, hence it cannot be consumed with the same abandon.
The reason these restrictions are suggested is because caffeine digests and metabolizes at a much slower rate in pregnant women, which could potentially reach the fetus through the placenta and enter the bloodstream. A baby still in the development stages would not be able to fend off the risks associated with absorbing caffeine. While being exposed to caffeine, it collects in the body as well as the brain of the unborn child.
A review of studies analyzing how caffeine affected pregnancies showed a higher likelihood of low-birth weight, early labor and miscarriages. Treasure McGuire, associate professor (Pharmacology) at Bond University told The Conversation that all the studies indicating that caffeine consumption could adversely affect the baby’s development are merely observational and incidental.Therefore, a cause-and-effect relationship is not possible to establish with the pharmacological studies available.
Hannah Dahlen, professor of midwifery and associate dean, School of Nursing and Midwifery at Western Sydney University, said that women have a natural aversion to coffee during the initial stages of their pregnancies. This also happens to be when the chances of miscarriage are at the highest, making it easier on the women to avoid the drink altogether. Dahlen suggested decaffeinated coffee and tea for women still craving their daily dose.
Women must be cautious post-birth as well. Breastfeeding mothers might want to reduce their caffeine intake because it could pass on to the babies and make them cranky and unable to sleep.