Caffeine is a stimulant that is commonly found in tea, chocolate, energy drinks and, of course, coffee. Though relatively harmless, if consumed too frequently caffeine can have a negative impact on the central nervous system and could even increase your blood pressure.
Because of these health risks pregnant women are advised by The Food Standards Agency to consume no more than 300mg of coffee a day, which equates to approximately two cups of instant coffee.
Are you pregnant and worried about your caffeine intake? We ask Mr Oliparambil Ashokkumar, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, for his views on caffeine intake during pregnancy.
Can I drink caffeine during pregnancy?
During the initial stages of pregnancy it is quite common for women to go off caffeine and many women find that even the aroma of caffeine makes them feel nauseous.
Though you may feel nauseous and care should be taken to avoid caffeine during the first trimester, drinking caffeine during the later stages of your pregnancy in moderation should not harm either yourself or the baby. However, you should be careful to only consume 300mg a day as any more heightens your risk of miscarrying or having a baby with a low birth weight.
How much caffeine can I consume when pregnant?
The current health guidelines state that pregnant women should consider consuming less than 300mg of caffeine a day throughout their pregnancy. 300mg roughly equates to:
- Two mugs of instant coffee
- Four mugs of tea per day
You should also bear in mind that caffeine can also be highly concentrated in energy drinks, cold and flu remedies and even some cosmetics.
How can I control my caffeine cravings when pregnant?
The health risks associated with drinking too much caffeine during pregnancy are small and should you occasionally exceed the recommended 300mg limit it is unlikely to affect you or the baby.
Should you have a high caffeine intake you should wean yourself off caffeine products if possible, but I would not recommend instantly stopping drinking caffeine altogether. This could cause you to suffer from headaches, dizziness, irritability and stomach aches as your body adjusts to the lack of caffeine.
Decaffeinated beverages are now widely available and you may wish to consider switching to these for the duration of your pregnancy. Switching to herbal alternatives such as fruit teas could have even more benefits as these are rich in antioxidants.
If you choose to moderate your caffeine intake, do try and make sure you also drink plenty of water as this will help if you find that you begin to suffer from caffeine withdrawal headaches.
Should breastfeeding mothers avoid caffeine too?
When nursing, adjusting to night-feeds and the routine of looking after a new-born can leave you feeling tired and you may find you are frequently treating yourself to a caffeinated drink.
Remember, whilst caffeine may temporarily boost your energy levels, if you are breastfeeding the caffeine you consume will also be consumed by your child. Caffeine can greatly affect a young child’s ability to sleep and may make it difficult for your baby to establish a sleep pattern and cause them to lose out on that all important sleep that is needed to aid their development.
Whilst caffeine may give you that ‘quick fix’, it is also important to remember that caffeine is considered a diuretic. Nursing mothers are often prone to dehydration, so my advice is that you consider drinking caffeinated drinks occasionally rather than every day and perhaps switch to decaff and herbal teas or 100% fruit juices whilst breastfeeding. Avoid energy drinks and drink plenty of water to ensure you stay hydrated.