Why is Caffeine so bad for Pregnancy?
When I started Mama Tea, it came from an idea I had during my pregnancy. I had struggled to come “off the bean” and forgo caffeine before getting pregnant and in-between pregnancies but I managed it during my pregnancies by drinking lots of herbal teas. However, the problem was that a lot of herbal teas just didn’t taste very good, hence my business idea for Mama Tea.
Caffeine and Pregnancy
So, if you are pregnant, can you still drink coffee or not? Some of the evidence is a little contradictory or rather it doesn’t present the whole picture. Whilst the NHS advises pregnant women to limit caffeine during pregnancy, stating that “You don’t need to cut caffeine out completely, but you should limit how much you have to no more than 200mg a day“. The Food Standards Agency states “Pregnant women should limit caffeine intake to 200mg a day” and also states that tea and coffee manufacturers do not have to state the amount of caffeine in their products. Interestingly the British Coffee Association also has a section on Pregnancy . They quote the Royal College of Midwives – “There is no definitive evidence to show that caffeine in moderation has any adverse effects during pregnancy”. They do list some studies OTHER than ones like the ones I have listed below, which seem to support this advice, which is fine but doesn’t seem to be the whole picture to me.
I think there are two main problems with this advice: first of all, it is what this advice DOESN’T tell you that is worrying.
Caffeine and Miscarriage
Miscarriage is one of the most devastating things that can happen. It is awful. If you are a pregnant women who has suffered previous miscarriages, you want to do everything and anything you can to prevent it happening again. The medical advice is often you cannot do anything to prevent it which I do believe. However, if I had known about the undernoted information before I suffered my miscarriages, then I would never have gone near caffeine the whole time I was trying to get pregnant. The advice above is FAILING the many women who sadly suffer such a sad event and loss. So little is known about miscarriage but if we know these facts, then we should act on them. These women need to know these facts and they are facts. These are all medical studies that have been proven and are listed in Stephen Cherniske’s brilliant book, “Caffeine Blues”:-
- It is now proven that women who consume caffeine-containing beverages have increased risk for spontaneous abortions (ie miscarriage), premature deliveries and delivering infants with low birth weights (“Caffeine and Pregnancy: A Retrospective Study” – P.S. Weathersbee, L.K. Olson and T. R. Lodge 1977)
- Not only that but an important study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that miscarriage was directly and powerfully related to caffeine consumption BEFORE pregnancy. Women who had consumed more than 321 mg of caffeine per day before they became pregnant had nearly twice the risk of fetal loss compared to those who had consumed 48 mg per day. (“Feta Loss Associated with Caffeine Intake Before and during Pregnancy” – C Infante-Rivard, A. Fernandez, R. Gautheir et al 1993)
- The risk becomes much worse if the mother continues to drink caffeine during pregnancy. If so, a 200% increase in risk was associated with any caffeine intake over 163 mg a day. (“Fetal Loss Associated with Caffeine Intake Before and during Pregnancy” – C Infante-Rivard, A. Fernandez, R. Gautheir et al 1993)
- Caffeine also plays a role in later miscarriages. 80% of women who suffered a miscarriage at the end of the first trimester or after were drinking caffeine; (“Caffeine Consumption during Pregnancy and Association with Late Spontaneous Abortion” – W. Srisuphan and M.B. Bracken 1986)
- They also found that in women who had suffered a previous miscarriage, there was a FOUR-FOLD (400%) risk of miscarriage associated with ANY consumption of caffeine. (“Feta Loss Associated with Caffeine Intake Before and during Pregnancy” – C Infante-Rivard, A. Fernandez, R. Gauthier et al 1993)
The simple fact is that the developing fetus cannot process caffeine in the same way that an adult can, which means that the caffeine is extremely toxic. It is simply not worth the risk. Much as I loved my cappuccinos, it simply wasn’t worth it but no-one warned me. The information simply wasn’t there.
Measuring consumption of caffeine during pregnancy
The second problem with this advice is that it is really hard to measure the amount of caffeine that you drink (and eat) in one day. What is “moderation” as indicated above? Is the 200mgs a day ok? If you have drunk a lot of caffeine BEFORE pregnancy, this amount seems to be below 163 mgs (see note above). Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, decaffeinated tea and coffee, green tea, cocoa, soft drinks, medications and chocolate. Most coffee shops automatically serve double shots of coffee in cappuccinos and lattes and as shown in this article by the Telegraph, some cups of coffee on the high street have as much as six times their rival chains! Those involved in the caffeine industry do NOT have to list the amount of caffeine in their products. Why not? It is a highly addictive drug that can be very harmful to pregnant women and their developing babies. I love the odd cappuccino like everyone else but at least force the industry to give us an informed choice.
Is it time to change the advice?
The summary seems to be that this is not as cut and dried as stick to the 200mgs a day and you will be ok. It is much more complicated than that, as we have seen above. If we now know that there is a definite link between caffeine and miscarriage then why do organizations like the British Coffee Association and the Royal College of Midwives not include this information as a “full picture”, so that a pregnant woman can make her up her own mind? If you go over the “2-3 cups” or if you have had miscarriages before, or indeed if you have drunk a lot of caffeine BEFORE pregnancy, the advice above is simply not correct and could be downright dangerous. Why can’t the advice be to avoid the caffeine if you are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or have suffered a miscarriage and are trying again rather than take the risk? If I was having a Dan Brown moment, I would suspect that it might not be in the interests of the “caffeine industry” to do so…..
I fully recommend the following book to anyone who is interested in reading more about caffeine and its health implications: “Caffeine Blues” by Stephen Cherniske, M.S. .
If you have suffered a miscarriage or are threatening miscarriage, please go to The Miscarriage Association for support and advice and a special prayer to you.
Anna Louise Simpson
CEO and Founder of Mama Tea