Do I have to give up caffeine now that I'm pregnant?
Not necessarily. You can still enjoy your favorite caffeinated drinks as long as you don't overdo it. After years of controversy over the issue, most researchers now believe that, although caffeine does cross the placenta, moderate amounts (less than 300 milligrams a day) won't harm your baby.
First, caffeine is a stimulant and a diuretic, so it increases blood pressure and heart rate (not recommended during pregnancy), and causes frequent urination that could lead to dehydration. While you are in control of the exact amount of caffeine that enters your body, your baby is not; caffeine crosses the placenta and acts on your baby just as it acts on you. Normally, the effects of caffeine on an adult wear off in six hours, but in pregnant women, it may take twice as long to leave the body. Also, because the baby is still developing he will not be able to metabolize the caffeine efficiently which could result in altered sleep patterns and movement in the later stages of pregnancy.
In effort to prepare for pregnancy, many women eat better and exercise before conception to ensure that their bodies are healthy and ready for implantation of a fertilized embryo. Some studies have actually found a link between high amounts of caffeine consumption and delayed conception, with women who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine per day twice as likely to have conception delayed a full year or more compared with women who consumed less than 300 mg per day. While low to moderate consumption seems safe, heavy caffeine drinkers may want to start cutting back even when they begin trying for a baby. No studies have been done on the effects of caffeine on sperm.
What are the Effects of Caffeine?
If you notice yourself feeling jittery after you have has a lot of coffee or tea, there’s a good reason for it. Caffeine can cause a number of physical side effects, including:
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- increased sweat production
For those women holding out until the late stages of pregnancy to enjoy caffeine again, the wait may be even longer than expected. Late in the pregnancy, the baby will absorb caffeine from the mother, and at this stage, the caffeine can cause increased fetal heart rate, increased breathing rate, and tremors. Also, babies born to women with high levels of caffeine consumption late in the pregnancy were likely to spend more time awake in the days following birth. Many tired parents of newborns want their babies to sleep well, so the avoidance of caffeine in late pregnancy is essential for the baby to establish good sleeping patterns, and essential for the parents’ peace of mind as well! Even breast-feeding mothers can pass caffeine into their baby’s system, so while low to moderate caffeine levels will not harm the baby, any amount of caffeine will be passed from mother to baby, metabolized by the baby’s system, and may have stimulating effects.
While most women and babies have no negative health effects from low to moderate caffeine consumption, caffeine sensitivity varies in each individual mom and baby. If you are normally caffeine sensitive, take care to avoid it during pregnancy, as the effects of caffeine are greater because it is more slowly metabolized in pregnant women. Avoid caffeine containing foods such as chocolate, coffee flavored ice creams and yogurts, and stick to fruity desserts like pies. Be sure to stay well hydrated with beverages such as decaffeinated tea, juice, and water.
How do you break the caffeine habit?
Caffeine addiction is powerful. Consumers can become addicted after only three consecutive days of caffeine intake. The withdrawal symptoms (lower blood pressure that leads to headache, irritability, and fatigue) can be bothersome or even severe, but they won’t last long. And the following tips can help you through them as you wean yourself from caffeine:
Keep your blood sugar up. This will keep your energy level up. Eat frequent, small meals rich in protein and complex-carbohydrate foods. Also, make sure you’re taking a prenatal vitamin.
Get some exercise every day.
Get enough sleep.
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