Caffeine During Pregnancy

Next to alcohol, caffeine is probably the most widely consumed chemical substance which drastically changes how our bodies function. Evidence has shown that generally speaking, low levels of caffeine can be beneficial to our health, provided that we do not exceed recommended doses of course. That being said, there are circumstances and conditions where even small amounts of caffeine must be taken with care and consideration, and pregnancy is most definitely one of those.

Where is caffeine found?

Caffeine is readily found in drinks like tea and coffee, as well as a host of energy drinks and soft drinks which are rich in sugars which provide an extra kick. Caffeine can also be consumed in tablet form for convenience, and there are actually a number of other over the counter medications that may contain caffeine to boost their effects.

The amount of caffeine found in a particular beverage will be specific to that drink and its manufacturer. Energy drinks are designed to have a very high concentration of caffeine, which is why their regular consumption can have very negative effects.

What effects does caffeine have?

For a simple compound, caffeine has a host of different effects. It belongs to a class of substances known as stimulants, which, as the name suggests, essentially stimulate different bodily systems. Caffeine stimulates your heart to beat faster, and causes an increase in what is called your basal metabolic rate (BSR). Your BSR is basically the rate at which your body uses up energy at rest. Other effects include a diuretic impact on your body, which basically means that your body is stimulated to urinate more.

If you are pregnant then these effects are carried on to your baby as whatever you consume is shared with your unborn child through the placenta, a structure which allows nutrition to be passed on to a foetus as it grows.

Is caffeine harmful during pregnancy?

In small quantities (about two cups a day) caffeine is not harmful if you are pregnant, it has much the same effect as a brief period of exertion, increasing the heart rate of both yourself and your unborn baby. However excess amounts of caffeine can place undue stress on the developing cardiac system of a foetus. Moreover the other effects of caffeine like diuresis can leave you dehydrated, which definitely isn’t good for you or your baby.

One of the potentially harmful effects of caffeine during a pregnancy is on your ability to extract iron from vegetable foods. This is just because of how your body absorbs different nutrients from different compounds. Iron is a very important nutrient for general health as it is responsible for your blood’s ability to carry around life giving oxygen to cells that need it. During pregnancy however it is particular important to ensure that your unborn child is getting the supply of oxygen he or she needs to grow and develop as they should.

Is caffeine addictive?

Many people who drink caffeine regularly find that they gradually need more and more of their beverage of choice to achieve the same effect. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t because caffeine itself is addictive, although you can get very used to its ability to boost you into wakefulness. This effect is actually because your body acclimatises to the chemical, and becomes better at breaking it down and getting it out of your system.

Tips for cutting caffeine

If you feel that on balance you would rather drop caffeine from your diet all together, or reduce the amount of it you are taking into your body, then there are a number of tips and tricks that can help you take that step.

You can replace tea or coffee with their decaffeinated alternatives. These taste much the same but lack caffeine itself. Alternatively you can cut down on how much caffeine there is in a cup of tea by leaving the tea bag in for a shorter period of time, and the same can be done for coffee if you simply allocate a smaller amount of coffee into your drink.

If your body is very used to high levels of caffeine, you can experience some side effects from cutting it out. These vary hugely in terms of their severity, frequency, and even occurrence (you may not experience any adverse effects at all), and symptoms include headaches and feelings of tiredness.

Controlling your intake of caffeine is important during your pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut it out altogether. As with most things, small quantities won’t do any harm, provided you are careful about the frequency and size of the dose of caffeine you are receiving.

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