Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Caffeine & Pregnancy

I have thought a lot about the possible effects of caffeine intake during pregnancy since my fourth pregnancy. I was taking biostatistics, epidemiology and public health policy courses for my Master's degree. I was between four months and eight months pregnant. I was exhausted and decided to drink a Diet Coke a few times. Only one sip gave me a huge burst of energy. I could easily stay up for hours at night and study. One can of Diet Coke could last me for days. I was surprised by my ability to focus late at night. I only did this a few times though. I was convinced that my baby was feeling the effects of the caffeine also - since it would also send him into an overly active state as soon as I started drinking the Coke.

It seems like any sort of stimulant could potentially have powerful effects on a baby growing inside the womb - especially since their systems are unable to filter the stimulants. I know physicians often counsel woman to consume only low to moderate amounts of coffee and/or other caffeinated drinks, but even a little bit on a continual, regular basis seems like it could be very harmful. My own OB laughed when I asked her about the amount I had consumed, "Three cokes in three months?" she asked, clearly surprised that I was even worried about it. It seems like the studies on this should be abundantly present in the literature - since "the average American" drinks coffee on a daily basis - and since there are so many more trends in behavioral disorders, etc. in young children. The most recent studies I could find are from 1993.

Before I had my caffeine experience above, I partially blamed television. Experts have for years been recommending no, or a very limited amount of, television viewing for young kids, but most of my friends over the years have had very small children watching tv on a regular basis. Again though, I believe this would be only a small piece of the pie in explaining current trends.

One article in WebMD makes it sound like it's ok to drink coffee during pregnancy, but in actuality makes it very clear that there is too little evidence to base that opinion on. One, not-so-great-of-a reliable source, stated "latest studies indicate that women who drink two or even three cups of coffee a day are probably not putting their babies at risk. However, the chance of miscarriage does increase slightly in women who have five to six cups of coffee a day." This sounds nice, until you really think about it. If five to six cups of coffee per day could cause a miscarriage, it seems to naturally follow that even one cup of coffee per day could be harming the fetus in other ways. I did find a specific research study on this in JAMA. The conclusion was as the article stated above: "Caffeine intake before and during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of fetal loss."

Anyways, just another question I have been thinking about a lot - and have very little to no scientific facts to settle it. It comes up a lot since everywhere I turn there are tiny expresso shops - and I mean every-where. I've heard Seattle rain and coffee "go together."

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