Pregnancy comes with many responsibilities of taking care of both you and the baby in the womb. Since this is one of the most delicate stages in a woman’s life, they ought to be very careful of what they do and what they eat. During this time, the pregnant woman is advised to take some foods in large quantities while completely being restricted on others. This advice comes from all corners of the people surrounding you- the doctor, family members, friends, work mates as well as complete strangers. Despite all these, the most important thing is staying healthy and keeping the baby safe. A common argument has been on the intake of caffeine containing substances during pregnancy. “Caffeine is a form of drug that is naturally produced by the leaves and seeds of several plants but can also be artificially produced” (March of Dimes 1). “Caffeine is commonly found in coffee, tea, chocolates, pain relievers and soft drinks just to mention but a few” (March of Dimes 1). Once in the body, caffeine acts as a stimulant by arousing the central nervous system to cause alertness, mood elevation and temporary energy boost. Therefore after consumption by a pregnant woman just like the other nutrients from the mother’s blood caffeine will infiltrate through the placenta and get into the fetus causing the stimulant effects (Bech et al, 1). This paper is therefore an in-depth analysis of the whether caffeine intake during pregnancy will have adverse effects of the development of the fetus.
The Effects of maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy on fetal development
“It has been widely known that women who are trying to conceive or are already pregnant should avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine” (March of Dimes 1). However, in the recent past, the controversy on whether or not to take caffeine during pregnancy and in what quantities has been the bone of contention. There is still no consensus on the safe limit of caffeine during pregnancy. Some have argued that more than 200mg per day which is equivalent to about 12-ounce cup of coffee is detrimental to the mother and fetus. “This is in accordance to the results of a study published in the March 2008 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that showed that moms-to-be who consumed 200 mg or more of caffeine a day had double the risk of miscarriage compared with those who had no caffeine” (March of Dimes 1).
Nevertheless, the effects of caffeine on the development of the fetal have been tabled out to be the following. For one, high intake of caffeine by a pregnant woman will lead to them giving birth to low weight babies (Bech et al, 1). This comes about due to the fact that caffeine will affect the length of growth of the fetus especially within the first trimester and onwards. Research has shown that after a pregnant woman consumes caffeine, it passes through the placenta to the fetus alongside other nutrients. And since the fetus’s systems of breaking down and eliminating chemicals is not fully developed the levels of caffeine in the blood of the fetus will elevate thus remaining there for longer periods as compared to the mother who effectively eliminate excess caffeine from their bodies. When these happens, the fetus experiences faster heart rates, increased rate of breathing, high breathing rates all which have detrimental effects on the health of the baby after birth.
In addition to this, the fact that caffeine is a very strong stimulant, once in the body of the mother it stimulates the central nervous system thus causing constriction of the blood vessels. This henceforth reduces the blood flow to the placenta thus depriving off the fetus blood which if continued may lead to death of the fetus (Wisborg et al 421).
All in all, studies conducted to show whether caffeine has effects on the fetal development after consumption by a pregnant woman have given conflicting results. Some have indicated that caffeine could reduce the birth weight of the baby by a great deal, others concluded that the weight would be slightly affected while others argue that there was completely no relationship between caffeine and fetal growth arguing that even the baby of the heaviest caffeine intake mother weighed normal (Bracken 458).
In the year 2008 a study was conducted at the University of Leeds to examine the association between maternal caffeine intakes with fetal growth restriction. This was a prospective longitudinal observational study that involved the maternity units of two large hospitals in the UK. The participants were low risk pregnant women who were in their eighth to twelfth week of pregnancy. Therefore, through a validated caffeine assessment tool, the caffeine in the women’s body was quantified after a four week intake. “Caffeine half-life (proxy for clearance) was determined by measuring caffeine in saliva after a caffeine challenge” (CARE Study Group 1). The results of the study showed that caffeine intake had effects on the development of the fetus at all stages of the pregnancy. This is in accordance to the data given below that was obtained from the study:
- “Odds ratios
- 1.2 (95% CI 0.9 to 1.6) for 100-199 mg/day,
- 1.5 (1.1 to 2.1) for 200-299 mg/day,
- 1.4 (1.0 to 2.0) for >300 mg/day compared with <100 mg/day;
- Test for trend P<0.001)”. (CARE Study Group 1)
“Mean caffeine consumption decreased in the first trimester and increased in the third. The association between caffeine and fetal growth restriction was stronger in women with a faster compared to a slower caffeine clearance (test for interaction, P=0.06)” (CARE Study Group 1). These results depicted that there was a correlation between the maternal caffeine intakes and the fetal development throughout the pregnancy.
Due to its availability in most foods, caffeine has been classified to be the most common xenobiotic that is consumed by most pregnant women. More than 60 percent of the caffeine ingested by pregnant women comes from tea while other sources such as coffee and chocolates take the remaining percentage. This therefore mans that caffeine intake is a regular occurrence in most pregnant women as tea is a regular beverage. However, the controversy of whether maternal intake of caffeine would have effects on the fetal growth and development still remains to be an issue to resolve. Despite the many researches conducted, most of them have given conflicting results with people not knowing the best choice for them (Bracken 562). This means that further research has to be done so as to iron out the existing conflicts. Nevertheless, before the conclusions are made, it is important that pregnant women reduce their caffeine intake to minimal quantities during pregnancy as well as before conception.
Bech B, Obel C, Henriksen T, Olsen J. Effect of reducing caffeine intake on birth weight and length of gestation: randomized controlled trial. (2007). Web.
Bracken, M. Association of maternal caffeine consumption with decrements in fetal growth. (2003). American Journal of Epidemiology, 157, 456-466.
CARE Study Group. Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restriction: a large prospective observational study. (2008). British Medical Journal, 337 (32), a2332. Web.
March of Dimes; Caffeine in Pregnancy; 2010- 2011. Web.
Wisborg, K., Kesmodel, U., Hammer Bech, B., Hedegaard, M. & Brink Henriksen, T. Maternal consumption of coffee during pregnancy and stillbirth and infant death in the first year of life: Prospective study. (2003). British Medical Journal, 326, 420-423.