New recommendations issued today by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on caffeine consumption during pregnancy call for a reduction of daily caffeine intake from no more than 300mg to less than 200mg. Current advice issued by NICE states that ‘pregnant women should limit their consumption of caffeine to 300 milligrams a day.’
The latest recommendation is based on two linked studies conducted by the Universities of Leicester and Leeds which showed that the babies of pregnant women who consumed between 200 - 299 mg of caffeine per day were at an increased risk of fetal growth restriction (FGR) which could result in low birth weight (LBW) and/or miscarriage. The findings show that the higher the caffeine intake during pregnancy, the lower the baby’s birth weight when compared to the babies of mothers who limited their caffeine consumption (<100 mg/day) when pregnant. Babies with LBW have also been known to have problems later on in life.
Researchers noted in their study that caffeine consumption for the majority of women during the first trimester of pregnancy decreased to below 200mg.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) supports this new advice by the FSA. Current advice is for women to avoid caffeinated drinks in the first trimester, after which women are advised not to consume more than two cups of coffee a day.
Pregnant women who are addicted to caffeine should consult their GPs and midwives on safe levels of consumption during this period, and wean themselves off caffeine products if possible. Common withdrawal symptoms include headaches, dizziness, irritability and stomach aches, lasting no more than a week.
Concerned women should note that caffeine is a stimulant present in beverages such as coffee, tea and in chocolate. It is also in cola and energy drinks. The RCOG advises moderate consumption of these according to the new recommendations which state clearly no more than:
2 mugs of instant coffee or
1 mug of filter coffee or
2 mugs of tea or
5 cans of cola or
2 cans of energy drinks or
4 bars of chocolate
Pregnant women whose current daily consumption of coffee or tea exceeds 200mg but less than 300mg need not worry about having consumed too much caffeine, as research shows that most women lower their overall caffeine intake during pregnancy to recommended levels. They should reduce their caffeine intake to less than 200mg/day for the rest of the pregnancy. More of such studies are required to test and confirm the findings.
The advice for couples planning to have children remains the same, that caffeine consumption has adverse effects on reproduction, including IVF treatment. Couples wishing to start a family should therefore limit their caffeine intake. Again, couples undergoing assisted reproduction should consult their doctors for more advice.
3 November 2008
To view the press release from the FSA, please visit www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2008/nov/caffeinenov08.
To access the study, Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restriction: a large prospective observational study via the BMJOnline, please visit www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/nov03_2/a2332?q=rss_home.