It seems to be turning out that everything everyone thought they knew about everything wasn’t quite correct. Let me be clearer: coffee doesn’t cause cancer (can actually prevent it), coffee doesn’t worsen chances for osteoporosis (can also actually prevent it), and now, coffee may not actually be a total no-no during pregnancy.
I grew up with this understanding of pregnancy, that, along with alcohol and certain cheeses and smoking, coffee was bad for someone with fetus. I think it was my mom, who also told me that coffee would stunt my growth if I drank it too early, that told me that drinking the caffeine concoction during pregnancy would also stunt the fetus’ growth. It also makes sense seeing how addictive caffeine is, that imbibing too much could result in a caffeine-baby (like a crack baby, but healthier?)
What’s the truth?
It’s not as straightforward as coffee and cancer and coffee and your bones. As with my story about giving coffee to your children, there are solid arguments for the yes and the no sides.
One of the reasons there are no direct answers is because it is considered unethical to medically test on a pregnant woman. This means that the information we have about the effects of coffee and caffeine on pregnancy and fetuses comes from looking backwards at cases where caffeine and coffee have been involved. This is problematic because of the inability to control for variables, meaning that the subjects could have ingested other drugs or foods or have other hereditary components that would make results regarding caffeine murky and inconclusive.
Researchers have been doing just this, however, and there are ways to analyze the data and information to come to pretty solid educated guesses. Those educated guesses seem to be concluding, for the most part, that caffeine and coffee is not all that bad during pregnancy. In one study, a Dr. Elmer described one pregnant person as drinking at least 6 cups per day, often going as high as 24 cups per day: “She carried the pregnancy uneventfully, with no birth defects or changes in growth, but she did end up going into premature labor. It’s hard to know for sure if caffeine caused it.” He explains that someone who feels the need to drink up to 24 cups of coffee per day even when pregnant probably has other factors going on that could contribute to premature labor. “Perhaps she was smoking, she was working in a high-stress environment, or she used other products excessively.” While on the surface this case seems to conclusively show that excess caffeine probably isn’t all that bad, it doesn’t allows us to be certain.
One of the other reasons, despite results like this, that professionals are still cautious about caffeine ingestion during pregnancy is because of the results shown in animal testing. Reportedly, caffeine intake has been linked to lower fertility, more birth defects and higher miscarriage rates as well as lower average birth-weights in various animals.
Because of the uncertainty, the recommendations for caffeine intake during pregnancy is less than 200 milligrams per day. That may sound like a lot, but a small from Starbucks already contains more than that). Experts recommend tapering off instead of quitting cold turkey because caffeine withdrawal isn’t fun and the effects of caffeine aren’t dire enough to force yourself to endure them. Remember that decaffeinated coffee has small amounts of caffeine, but you can have a lot more of it before you reach the 200 mg recommendation. One doctor recommended no more than two small cups of coffee per day, or two caffeinated beverages per day.
From my personal experience, once you wean yourself off, you’ll find that you have more consistent energy throughout the day, especially if you minimize your simple carbs and sugars and focus on complex carbs and protein (natural sources of long-lasting energy). Additionally, remember the hidden caffeine in treats like chocolate—that still counts. I remember the first time I quit coffee for a while, on the second day I was pounding the brownies that my job sold before I realized why they seemed especially delicious to me—they were giving me a tiny jolt of caffeine when my body was most desperate for it.
And, if you miss it terribly, remember that you’ll probably be getting a ton of it when that new baby refuses to conform to any kind of sleep schedule!