Caffeine should be 'completely avoided' during pregnancy, says study

Reaching for endless cups of tea and coffee to keep your energy levels up?

If you’re pregnant, stop right there.

While previous advice states that people should limit the amount of caffeine they drink to 200mg (around two cups of instant coffee) a day while pregnant, a new study says that those who are pregnant or trying for a baby should avoid caffeine completely.

The research, by Professor Jack James, of Reykjavik University in Iceland, looked at data from 37 studies and found that in 32 of these, caffeine was found to significantly raise the risk of issues such as stillbirth, miscarriage, and low birth weight.

Professor James’ research also points to an increased risk of childhood acute leukaemia and obesity linked with mothers who consume caffeine during pregnancy.

He wrote: ‘Current advice such as that issued by […] the NHS is not consistent with the level of threat indicated by biological plausibility of harm and extensive empirical evidence of actual harm.

‘Accordingly, current health recommendations concerning caffeine consumption during pregnancy are in need of radical revision.

‘Specifically, the cumulative scientific evidence supports pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy being advised to avoid caffeine.’

Some experts disagree with Professor James’ findings, and are keen to reassure pregnant women that they don’t need to panic if they’re having the occasional caffeine hit.

Daghni Rajasingham, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘The findings of this study add to the large body of evidence that supports limited caffeine intake during pregnancy, but pregnant women do not need to completely cut out caffeine, as this paper suggests.

‘As the study notes, high levels of caffeine during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and babies having a low birth weight and may lead to excess weight gain in the child’s early years, which can increase risk of health problems later in life.

‘However, as other – and potentially more reliable – research has found, pregnant women do not need to cut caffeine out entirely because these risks are extremely small, even if the recommended caffeine limits are exceeded.

‘The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ advise to limit caffeine intake to 200 milligrams per day – the equivalent to two cups of instant coffee – still stands.

‘This paper does not supersede all the other evidence that has found that a limited intake of caffeine is safe for the majority of pregnancy women.’

Professor Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at Kings College London, points out that other risk factors may have been overlooked in the study, and told the BBC that while there may be harm in consuming ‘high doses’ of caffeine during pregnancy, small amounts should be fine.

He said: ‘Caffeine has been in human diets for a long time.

‘However the observational nature of this data with its inherent bias does not indicate with any certainty that low doses of caffeine are harmful, and the current advice to avoid high doses of caffeine are unlikely to change.’

NHS advises still states that up to 200mg of caffeine a day is completely fine.

Just remember that caffeine isn’t only present in coffee – it can also be found in tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and energy drinks.

How much caffeine is in my drink?

  • 1 mug of instant coffee: 100mg 
  • 1 mug of filter coffee: 140mg 
  • 1 mug of tea: 75mg 
  • 1 can of cola: 40mg 
  • 1 can (250ml) of energy drink: up to 80mg – larger cans may contain up to 160mg
  • 1 bar (50g) of plain chocolate: most products on the UK market contain less than 25mg
  • 1 bar (50g) of milk chocolate: most products on the UK market contain less than 10mg


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