Drinking a lot of caffeine in pregnancy has long been linked to pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, low birth weight and stillbirth. But new research from the Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre shows that although most (54%) of women cut down on caffeine during their pregnancy, 1 in 20 women actually increased their caffeine intake during pregnancy. This is worrying and shows we need to do more to raise awareness of the risk of caffeine during pregnancy.
What did the research show?
The Tommy’s research clinic team studied more than 1,000 mums across 41 UK hospitals between 2014 and 2016. They combined information typically used to measure stillbirth risk with a questionnaire about caffeine consumption. The questionnaire included various caffeinated drinks to see whether links could be made between stillbirth and certain levels of caffeine consumption.
Although most (54.5%) people cut down on caffeine while pregnant, 1 in 20 actually increased their intake. This shows that there is more work to do to raise awareness of the risks of caffeine during pregnancy.
Energy drinks had the most impact, leading to a 1.85 times higher stillbirth risk. This was followed by instant coffee (1.34x) and cola (1.23x). However, it wasn’t possible to separate the impact of caffeine from that of sugar in cola and chemicals like taurine in energy drinks. We need to investigate this further in order to better understand specifically where the risk is coming from.
This new study also reports that the more caffeine consumed per day, the higher the risk of stillbirth. This is why it is a good idea to reduce the amount of caffeine you have as much as possible during pregnancy.
Why is caffeine harmful during pregnancy?
Caffeine, like many substances found in a normal diet, can be harmful in large amounts. Babies can’t process caffeine like adults, so when large amounts cross through into the placenta, it can be dangerous. Even though a little bit can be okay, staying on the safe side can help mums to have a healthier pregnancy. The official guidance is to keep caffeine consumption low while pregnant.
Swapping to decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or water are all good choices if you are used to drinking a lot of caffeinated drinks.
I’ve been drinking lots of caffeine – what do I do?
Try not to worry too much if you’ve gone over the suggested limit before. Caffeine is one part of pregnancy health, alongside eating a balanced diet, keeping physically active, going to antenatal care appointments and seeking help for unusual symptoms.
It’s not always clear when something has caffeine in or how much it contains, and even if people are trying to cut down, milligrams don’t mean a lot to most of us so it can be hard to keep track. You can calculate how much caffeine you are consuming by using our caffeine calculator.
Charlotte Stirling-Reed, registered nutritionist and mum to three-year-old Raffy and four-month-old Ada, says: