Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in some plants, beans, and seeds. Most of the time, it is associated with coffee which contains the highest caffeine concentration. However, caffeine is also found in a number of food and beverages like nuts, colas, hot chocolate and other chocolate products. It can also be found in some medications and other food supplements.

Not many of us realize that caffeine is just similar to other drugs like nicotine and alcohol which has an addictive property, the reason why many people pine for coffee, tea or cola. It gives us a “feel-good-sensation” because it has the ability to stimulate our brain’s pleasure center. The heartbreaking part about caffeine though, is the fact that several studies have strongly implicated it with a number of prenatal risks.

In a longitudinal study done at the two large hospitals in United Kingdom covering 2635 pregnant women subjects, 13% had a baby with fetal growth restriction (birth weight at less than 10th percentile). [1] Higher caffeine consumption was associated to greater chances of having growth-restricted babies. On the contrary, the association between caffeine consumption and fetal growth restriction is reduced for those taking less than 100 mg/day of caffeine. [2]

As far as the above study is concerned, researchers calculated that the odds of having a baby with fetal growth restriction in women who consumed 100-199 mg/day of caffeine is 20% higher, 50% higher for those who consumed 200-299 mg/day, and 40% higher for those who consumed more than 300 mg/day of caffeine. [1]

In another study reported early this year of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, there was an observed association of high caffeine intake with increased risk for miscarriage. The respective rates of miscarriage among women with no caffeine use, 0 to 200 mg/day, and 200 mg/day or more were 12%, 15%, and 25% respectively. [3]

Caffeine consumption during pregnancy is also linked to cryptorchidism. This is a condition wherein one or two undescended testicles at birth persist to at least 2 years of age. [4] This was concluded by a prospective study done at the Center for Research on Women’s and Children’s Health in Berkeley, California. Investigators assessed that sons of mothers who drank three cups of coffee a day during pregnancy were likely to have persistent cryptorchidism. There has been recent interest with cryptorchid children due to their increased risk for developing testicular cancer.

Though the deleterious effects of fetal growth restriction, miscarriage, and cryptorchidism have shown significant linear association predominantly with high caffeine consumption, this should not make any pregnant woman complacent. There is enough evidence to suggest that any amount, no matter how low your caffeine intake, can cause some physical effects on your little one. Caffeine: (a) increases your baby’s heart rate, b) may affect how much your baby moves in utero, (c) can cause you to absorb less iron which is detrimental to your baby’s overall development, and (d) babies tend to store caffeine in their blood for longer periods of time and could have a potential risk to reach dangerously high levels.

Here are some commonly loved caffeinated drinks with approximated caffeine content which you might as well think of giving up.

instant coffee (8 oz) —– 70 mg, brewed coffee (8 oz) —– 60-120 mg
tea (8 oz) —————— 15-45 mg
coca cola (12 oz can) — 34 mg, pepsi cola (12 oz can) —- 38 mg
chocolate milk (8 oz) —– 4 mg, dark chocolate (1 oz) —- 20 mg,
milk chocolate (1 oz) —– 6mg

So if you are pregnant, there’s good enough reason to quit or at least cut back on your caffeine consumption. It may be difficult to give up your morning cup of coffee or tea, but the price is high if you don’t. Just think that you and your baby’s health are far more important than the irresistible taste of brewed coffee!

References:

1. Miranda Hitti (2008). Study: Quit Caffeine While Pregnant Or at Least Cut Back on
Caffeine, Researchers Say, Citing Possible Risk of Fetal Growth Restriction
http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20081104/study-quit-caffeine-while-pregnant

2. Laurie Barclay, MD (2008). Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy May Increase Risk for
Fetal Growth Restriction. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/583046

3. Laurie Barclay, MD (2008). High Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy May Increase
Risk for Miscarriage. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/569162

4. Scott Baltic. Caffeine in Pregnancy Linked With Persistent Cryptorchidism in Sons
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/570489