Caffeine in pregnancy

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Cup of black coffee
Cup of black coffee
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There is a reason why having that first hit of coffee in the morning feels like taking a drug – because it is. Caffeine may be widely consumed and fine in moderation, but it is a drug. When you’re in the business of making babies, it is definitely on the black list. Take a look at a few of the health risks associated with cranking the caffeine while your baby is waiting patiently in your womb.

Cletus the foetus on caffeine

Did you know that caffeine is defined as a naturally occurring psychoactive drug? Well, it is! That means it affects the nervous system and the brain. Just as you wouldn’t send your foetus to Woodstock 2010 with a copy of Timothy Leary’s final chapters, you also don’t want to feed you foetus too much of this psychoactive drug.

You may not be able to protect them forever, but your child’s first hit of coffee shouldn’t be in your womb.

What’s mine is yours: From your mouth to your baby

When you fall pregnant, what you eat is passed on to your foetus via the placenta, which feeds the foetus during the pregnancy. Components of your diet which pass the placenta and reach the foetus are said to have ‘crossed the placental barrier’.

Not everything in the diet crosses the placental barrier. However, drugs (including caffeine) and alcohol can get through this barrier – it certainly isn’t the Great Wall of China. So when you have a cup of tea or coffee, the caffeine it contains goes straight into your little fella or little lady.

But caffeine isn’t harming me, you say, why would it harm my foetus? Unlike you, your foetus is small and has not properly developed the organs (especially the liver) which metabolise (or get rid of) drugs, including caffeine.

Because the foetus’s liver is so small, it does not get rid of caffeine and other drugs from its system like an adult (or even a child). So when you have a cup of coffee, it may stay in your foetus’ system because they have no organs to clear it away.

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Someone give me chocolate!

To ensure that caffeine doesn’t build up in the developing foetus, pregnant women are advised to consume less than 200 mg each day. That’s equivalent of about 2 cups of coffee, but don’t forget to include everything which contains caffeine – such as chocolate! Yes, unfair but true.

Whether it’s through chocolate, tea, coffee, energy drinks or anything else, having more than 300 mg of caffeine each day when you’re pregnant can affect the development and growth of your foetus. You’re more likely to have a miscarriage and you baby is more likely to be born underweight, increasing their risk of health problems and, sadly, death.

Overdoing the caffeine during this time has also been associated with sudden infant death syndrome and sleep apnoea, meaning your baby can’t breathe properly when asleep.

Drug aware

As you can see, caffeine – although common and legal – is a drug that can severely affect a growing foetus. Cutting down is the best option, and if you can eliminate caffeine from your diet, you’ll reduce these risks even more. No one wants to rip the chocolate out of a pregnant woman’s hand, so figure out where, if at all, you want to use your caffeine quota.

Be aware of all the products you consume. If you’re unsure about their caffeine content, read the label. If you have trouble with cutting out caffeine or any other aspects of food and nutrition during pregnancy, grab some face time with your local GP, because there are contingency plans for everyone.

More information

Caffeine during pregnancy   For more information, see Caffeine Consumption during Pregnancy
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Date Created: March 29, 2012 Date Modified: December 20, 2012