New study suggests caffeine consumption guidelines may need changing

For most adults, a cup of coffee or tea is an essential part of our daily routine. Not only does breaking for a cuppa help punctuate our day, it also soothes, warms and serves as something of a treat while also helping to give us a little kickstart or, if it is later in the day, to renew our impetus.

However, caffeine is, in fact, quite a powerful drug, and any caffeinated drink should be approached with caution during pregnancy following the release of findings in a new study which looked into the effects of tea and coffee during pregnancy.

Details of the study, which were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are noteworthy because they would appear to suggest that the recommended daily level of safe caffeine consumption during pregnancy should be reduced to the below the current guideline of 200mg caffeine – approximately two servings of instant coffee or three cups of tea.

This is because researchers at the University College Dublin found that consuming even small levels of caffeine increased the risk of premature birth and low birthweight.

The researchers examined data from 941 mother-child pairs and found that for every additional 100mg of caffeine consumed during the first trimester, there was a reduction in the length of a baby, in head circumference, and in birthweight of around 0.5lbs. Furthermore, mothers with the highest level of caffeine consumption had babies that weighed an average of 0.37lbs (170g) less than mothers who consumed the least, while babies whose mothers drank more caffeine were also less likely to reach full gestation.

Dr Chen, the study’s lead author, told news agency Reuters, “Based on the consistent associations we observed, and because many pregnancies are unplanned, we would recommend women who are pregnant or seeking to become pregnant to at least limit their intakes of caffeinated coffee and tea.

“High caffeine intake can result in restricted blood flow in the placenta which may subsequently affect fetal growth. Caffeine can also cross the placenta readily, and because caffeine clearance slows as pregnancy progresses, caffeine accumulation may occur in fetal tissues.”

However, the study failed to establish any link between the level of coffee consumption and a woman’s chances of conceiving via IVF.

The NHS currently recommends that pregnant women consume no more than 200mg of caffeine a day, while The World Health Organization allows for more, with a recommendation of no more than 300mg a day.

The study adds weight to an earlier American study which found a possible link between high levels of caffeine consumption and possible miscarriage.

As medical professionals still believe the risks are quite small, the study should not be a cause for alarm. There is no indication that mothers-to-be need to cancel their coffee in the morning or go decaf just yet, and it’s likely more research will be needed before the guidelines are changed. However, it is clearly a good idea to err on the side of caution by ensuring only moderate consumption of caffeine. Minimising caffeine may also help you alleviate some common pregnancy problems, such as indigestion and tiredness.