If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you’ve probably been told by your doctor that coffee is completely safe. Some sources specify a limit of 200mg of caffeine per day, which is equal to roughly one cup of coffee. Well, I beg to differ and want to share with you my thoughts on why it’s best to avoid caffeine altogether during preconception and pregnancy. Please note that all references can be found at the end of this article.
1. Caffeine is a stimulant – Caffeine is a drug known as a stimulant. This means that it stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, the same system that is responsible for the “fight or flight” response – the same response that gets turned on when you’re stressed. When the body is stressed, it is not thinking about reproducing – it’s thinking about survival. As a stimulant, caffeine increases your blood pressure and heart rate – both of which are not recommended in pregnancy. This is why the goal of most alternative healthcare practitioners who treat infertility is to down-regulate the stress response and up-regulate (stimulate) the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation, sleep, and digestion. The same idea applies during pregnancy. Pregnant women should ideally not be exposed to a lot of stress as the sympathetic response arrests the digestive process which interferes with nutrient absorption, interferes with sleep, and increases circulating levels of stress hormones, which eventually reach your baby. Fertility and pregnancy is about relaxation, openness, and reception. Anything that helps get you into more of a relaxed state is going to help encourage the best outcomes. Whereas anything that prevents you from being in a more relaxed state (including stimulating substances) may have an underlying impact on your fertility and pregnancy. Some outcomes that have been associated with caffeine specifically include miscarriage, preterm labour, birth defects, stillbirth, and infertility.
2. You are not a statistic – Doctors base their advice on research. The problem with this is that research is not always as clear-cut as we like to think it is. Just because the research suggests that 200mg of caffeine is safe in pregnancy, does not mean that women who drank a lesser amount in the study did not experience adverse events. A one-size-fits-all recommendation doesn’t necessary fit all pregnant women. Some women are more susceptible to the stimulant effects of caffeine than others, so it’s important to consider individual variations in this case. Getting to know yourself and becoming more in tune with your body will help you make a decision that you are comfortable with.
3. Caffeine crosses the placenta – Although you may be able to handle the amounts of coffee you’re ingesting, your baby cannot. Your baby’s metabolism is still maturing and cannot fully breakdown caffeine. Later in pregnancy, caffeine can also cause changes in your baby’s normal sleep and movement pattern.
4. You may already be getting caffeine from other sources – Remember that caffeine is found in not just coffee, but also tea, chocolate, soda, and even some over-the-counter medications to relieve headaches. You may already be ingesting caffeine without being aware of it so be mindful of what you are putting into your body. If you are already getting caffeine from other sources, drinking coffee on top of it is not recommended.
5. Caffeine increases risk of miscarriage, even in low amounts – A study released by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who consume 200mg (one cup) or more of caffeine daily are twice as likely to have a miscarriage as those who do not consume any caffeine. This is a relatively low amount of caffeine, but it was enough to have significant impact on some women’s pregnancies.
6. High amounts of caffeine increase risk of stillbirth – A study released by the British Medical Journal found that women who consumed 8 or more cups of coffee per day had an increased risk of stillbirth. This is an extremely high and unhealthy amount of coffee for anyone to drink, let alone pregnant women, however stillbirth is a serious and devastating risk, so why put yourself at risk at all?
7. Coffee and TCM – According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, coffee is a strong medicine and should be used as such. Coffee has a strong “moving” effect, meaning that it can clear stagnation. However, when consumed over a long period of time, it can damage the blood (manifesting in heart palpitations, anxiety, dizziness, adrenal fatigue), and agitate the liver. The blood and the liver are extremely important in nurturing a healthy pregnancy, therefore it would be best to avoid anything that could negatively affect them.
Take home message – The less caffeine you consume during preconception and pregnancy, the better. If you must have your fix, discuss it with your naturopathic physician so that you can get a personalized recommendation that’s right for you and your baby.
What to drink instead – Starting your day with some fresh lemon water can have incredible effects on your overall health, fertility potential, and pregnancy. Once you make a habit of it, I promise you’ll feel so much better and you won’t miss that latte.
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Cheers to good health,