We have all heard the rants and raves about women drinking alcohol during their pregnancies. What surprised me, however, is a similar debate revolving around the consumption of caffeine during pregnancy. This whole argument was brought to my attention a few days ago when I heard a barista at my favorite coffee shop berate a visibly pregnant woman for ordering a coffee. “Does the baby want a mocha latte, too?” the girl snapped. She was quickly led away by her manager, but it left me thinking about the implications of pregnant women drinking caffeine. How important is cutting out caffeine during pregnancy?

Caffeine consumption in pregnancy is a majorly debated concept. Unlike alcohol consumption and smoking, which have been very strongly linked to pregnancy complications, birth defects and developmental problems, caffeine is still under consideration. Studies have shown many problems with the regular consumption of caffeine in pregnancy. The most serious of complications is the increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery in those women who regularly consume moderate to high amounts of caffeine. Though most studies have indicated a large amount of caffeine, the equivalent of three or more cups of full-strength coffee daily, is necessary for a reliable link to these severe complications, there is no way of knowing the actual threshold. Every woman is different, as is every pregnancy. While one woman may be able to consume far more caffeine than this on a daily basis and have no problems, another may consume only a small amount and experience very serious complications.

Many of the potential problems associated with consumption of caffeine during pregnancy are related to the chemical’s dehydrating effect. Considered the most commonly used and abused psychotropic drug in the world, caffeine draws fluid as well as calcium and other critical nutrients, out of the body. In pregnancy this can have serious consequences as the body is in greater need of fluid and nutrients than ever. It is important to realize when a woman’s body is being depleted of fluid, so is her baby’s. Women should be exceptionally careful about what she consumes when pregnant. It is essential to remember coffee is not the only edible that contains high levels of the substance, nor is it the one with the highest amounts. In fact, there are many soda brands that contain multiple times the amount of caffeine in coffee. Foods such as chocolate also contain caffeine.

Source: Eskenazi, Brenda. Caffeine During Pregnancy: Grounds for Concern? Journal of the American Medical Association. 1993; 270(24): 2973-2974.