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Is Caffeine Harmful During Pregnancy?

Updated on March 2, 2015
Consuming too much caffeine can be extremely harmful during pregnancy.
Consuming too much caffeine can be extremely harmful during pregnancy. | Source

For most people, moderate caffeine consumption is not harmful, and may even some beneficial effects. However, multiple studies have indicated that caffeine can cause a potentially elevated risk of harm to both you and your baby if consumed during pregnancy. For that reason, most doctors recommend that you avoid caffeine while you are expecting.

Alcohol and tobacco top the list of the most common products doctors recommend that you avoid consuming during pregnancy; caffeine, however, can also be problematic. Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in foods and drinks like coffee and chocolate, but it can have adverse affects on you and your baby while you are pregnant -- especially on your breathing or heart rate.

What is Caffeine?

The chemical name for caffeine is trimethylxanthine, and it is found in a variety of plants and foods. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, caffeine is a stimulant, directly affecting your central nervous system by travelling quickly to the brain after it is consumed. Caffeine also has addictive properties that, during pregnancy, affect not just you, but also your baby, who receives the caffeine you consume through the placenta.

Coffee is one of the most popular and common caffeine sources, but decaf is a much safer option for expectant mothers.
Coffee is one of the most popular and common caffeine sources, but decaf is a much safer option for expectant mothers. | Source

Caffeine's Impact on the Circulatory System

When you are pregnant, you and your baby are both more susceptible to the effects of caffeine. These effects can include an increased heart rate, causing your heart to work harder and your breathing rate to increase. However, your increased rate of respiration is shallower, which means that you and your baby are likely not getting any more oxygen. In fact, March of Dimes reports that caffeine may actually decrease the amount of blood flowing to the placenta, reducing the amount of oxygen your baby receives.

Many carbonated beverages are risky during pregnancy due to their caffeine content, but they are unhealthy for anyone due to their massive sugar and chemical content.
Many carbonated beverages are risky during pregnancy due to their caffeine content, but they are unhealthy for anyone due to their massive sugar and chemical content. | Source

Caffeine's Impact on Nutrition

In addition to the potentially harmful effects caffeine can have on respiration and blood flow during pregnancy, caffeine can also cause your baby to receive less of the nutrients he or she needs to develop. According to the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board, doctors believe that women who consume caffeine during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from miscarriage and stillbirth. Furthermore, your caffeine intake can affect your baby even after birth, with a recent study demonstrating a link between pregnant women who consume 500 mg of caffeine per day and higher heart and breathing rates in their newborn infants.

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Final Considerations

While some medical professionals believe that it may be safe for pregnant women to consume under 200 mg of caffeine daily, most agree that it is still safer to avoid caffeine. Food and beverages that you should avoid while pregnant include coffee, soft drinks, some herbal teas, significant amounts of chocolate and certain cold and headache medications. Although you and your baby may not be affected by minor caffeine intake, you may lower your risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications if you avoid it altogether. Saving your favorite caffeine-containing treat for after your doctor says it is safe to consume it again can be a good way to give yourself something to look forward to during the uncomfortable stages of your pregnancy.

What are your suggestions for avoiding caffeine consumption during pregnancy?

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