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Planning a family is a very special time. In the past, there was not so much information readily available at our fingertips, nor the judgement to go along with it. Women smoked, ate shellfish, and drank coffee and alcohol, and yet most of their babies were born healthy. But as time moves forward, so does knowledge, and if we want what is best for mother and developing child, it is best to educate ourselves and learn from the vast available resources.
In this article, we will focus on the effects of consuming coffee before and during pregnancy, and offer some useful suggestions.
Coffee is the current darling of beverages. It offers warmth and comfort and the coveted energy boost. It is readily available, and most coffee houses are conveniently located and offer delicious treats and clean bathrooms. So it would seem a rather natural place for a pregnant woman to find herself frequenting. But- what are the effects of consuming coffee when trying to conceive, once pregnant-on the developing child, and after the child is born what about coffee consumption while nursing?
Although our daily cup of Joe may perk us up- it may have the opposite effect on our fallopian tubes. Researchers at the University of Nevada examined this possibility- in mice, not women- and concluded that caffeine stymies specialized cells in the muscular walls of the fallopian tubes, which are the highways that transport the eggs from a woman’s ovaries to her uterus.
The cells are responsible for massaging the eggs along their journey; if the tubes do not contract efficiently, the eggs can’t reach the womb, according to the research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. “This provides an intriguing explanation as to why women with high caffeine consumption often take longer to conceive than women who do not consume caffeine,” Sean Ward, a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, said in a press release.
But the jury is still out as previous research linking caffeine and pregnancy rates and outcomes has been inconsistent. A 2010 study in Medical Science Monitor found no association between caffeine and pregnancy rates, but did note that the drug was detected in the follicular fluid surrounding a woman’s eggs. In 2002, a study in Human Reproduction looked at 221 couples and concluded that failure to achieve a live birth after a cycle of in vitro fertilization ( IVF ) was associated with caffeine intake of more than 40 milligrams a day. Women who limited their caffeine intake to less than 50 milligrams had increased IVF pregnancy rates compared with women who consumed more.
Dad’s habit matters too! How does the consumption of caffeine affect men’s fertility rates? The researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, believe that caffeine may harm sperm at a molecular level. “ The fact that caffeine consumption in the male partner may reduce IVF outcome is intriguing and needs further exploration”, states Dr. Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield. “There’s something about drinking caffeinated beverages that is associated with pregnancy loss,” said Germaine Buck Louis of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, who led the study.
Bottom line-a little bit of caffeine when trying to conceive is not harmful. Consuming copious amounts of caffeine is never recommended- when trying to conceive or otherwise.
Once pregnant how does caffeine affect the development of the unborn child? Let’s begin by noting some facts about caffeine which is both a stimulant and a diuretic. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it increases our heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which is recommended for a healthy pregnancy.
Since caffeine also acts as a diuretic, it increases the frequency of urination, causing a reduction in our bodily fluid levels which can result in dehydration. Dehydration is the result of our body losing water faster than we can take it in. It is a serious issue for the health and wellness of all people, but it is especially important for pregnant women to stay well-hydrated. Water plays a vital role in the healthy development of our babies. Water helps to form the placenta, which is what our baby depends on to receive needed nutrients during pregnancy. Water is also utilized in the formation of the amniotic sac in the later stages of pregnancy. Thus it is extremely important to avoid dehydration during pregnancy.
Studies have proven that caffeine does indeed cross the placenta to the developing baby. Although we may be able to handle the amounts of caffeine we consume, our developing baby may not since its developing metabolism cannot fully process the caffeine.
Additionally, any amount of caffeine can also cause changes in our baby’s sleep patterns.
Caffeine has been linked to low birth weights otherwise known as fetal growth restriction. For example, compared to women who consumed less than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day, the odds of having a baby with fetal growth restriction were:
· 20% higher for women who got 100 – 199 milligrams of caffeine per day
· 50% higher for women who got 200 – 299 milligrams of caffeine per day
· 40% higher for women who got more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day
Here are some examples of how much caffeine we consume when we indulge:
· Starbucks House Blend Coffee ( 16 oz ) 259 milligrams
· Starbucks Grande Coffee ( 16 oz ) 400 milligrams
· 7 Eleven Big Gulp Coca-Cola ( 32 oz ) 92 milligrams
· 7 Eleven Big Gulp Diet Coke ( 32 oz ) 124 milligrams
· Dr. Pepper ( 12 oz can ) 37 milligrams
· Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Buzz Ice Cream ( 8 oz ) 72 milligrams
· Green Tea ( 6 oz ) 40 milligrams
· Black Tea ( 8 oz ) 14-70 milligrams
· Excedrin ( per capsule ) 65 milligrams
Overindulging in coffee and caffeine during pregnancy can pose significant risks to an unborn baby. Studies have shown that women who drink more than eight cups f coffee a day are more than twice as likely to suffer a stillbirth compared with women who do not drink coffee during pregnancy. Until now, it hasn’t been clear what role caffeine alone plays in stillbirth risk because other lifestyle factors associated with heavy coffee drinking such as smoking or drinking alcohol, may also increase the risk of stillbirth or infant death within the first year of life
To examine these effects, Danish researchers reviewed the medical history, smoking habits, and alcohol and coffee consumption of 18,478 pregnant women during 1989 – 96 and compared these records with the rates of stillbirth ( delivery of a dead fetus after 28 weeks gestation ) and infant death within a year after birth.
They found that the risk of stillbirth actually decreased slightly among women who drank one to three cups of coffee per day, but then increased with the number of cups of coffee per day the women drank during pregnancy.
“Compared with women who did not drink any coffee, women who drank four to seven cups a day had an 80% chance of stillbirth, and women who drank eight or more cups a day had an increased risk of 300%,” writes researcher Kristen Wisborg of the perinatal epidemiological research unit at Aarhus University Hospital in Aarhus, Denmark, and colleagues.
It is important to take into consideration that researchers have found that women with a high intake of coffee were also more likely to have a high intake of alcohol and be smokers. Once the study was adjusted for these habits, the risk of stillbirth associated with coffee consumption decreased to about 40% for those who drank four to seven cups of coffee per day and a 220% increase in risk among those who drank more than eight cups a day.
Overall, the researchers say that when it comes to increasing the risk of stillbirth, their study suggests that there is a threshold effect associated with consuming around four to seven cups of coffee per day. They say there did not seem to be one single reason that could explain the increased risk of stillbirth found among women who consumed large amounts of coffee.
Is it safe to drink coffee while breastfeeding?
According to pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, the answer is yes. Though the caffeine we consume does end up in our breast milk, most research suggests that the amount is less than one percent of what was ingested. So how many cups of coffee can a nursing mother drink per day?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than three cups per day. La Leche League says that five cups a day is safe. Most experts agree that nursing mothers should limit their caffeine intake to 300 milligrams or less. If drinking more than one cup of coffee per day, we can minimize the amount of caffeine in our breastmilk at any one time by spreading our coffee intake over the course of the day, or opting for espresso drinks such as lattes that have less caffeine than regular brewed coffee.
Though there has been some research with regard to how consuming coffee may affect our chances of conceiving, the development of the unborn baby, and how it affects the breastmilk of a nursing mother, the science behind it leaves room for far more study.
When planning a family, we can plan to curb our caffeine intake before, during and after pregnancy. Fortunately, for those of us who prefer to err on the side of caution, there are many wonderful coffee alternatives available. There are herbal teas such as Rooibus tea from South Africa and grain “coffee” beverages with ingredients like chicory, barley, inulin, nuts, carob etc. There is even an ancient beverage made from roasted and ground date seeds.
For those of us who really cringe at the thought of giving up coffee altogether, there are some wonderful coffee alternatives such as Date Mate Date Seed Coffee blends which contain a bit of the real stuff in order to satisfy our taste buds and keep us from the caffeine withdrawal crash.
Date Seeds Are Heart Healthy
"Date Seeds can reduce oxidative stress in the arterial wall by 33% and reduce fat being deposited (LDL) by 28%"
Journal of Food & Function, 2015
" ... enjoy my Date Mate ... delicious and satisfying. As it contains far less caffeine, I enjoy it anytime of the day or night"
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