Whether your all-time favorite is a handmade double espresso or the gas station special with creamer, the culture of coffee drinking is comforting, exciting, and binding. Like the strong caffeinated tea served in some cultures, coffee is the companionable beverage of many countries; it is perfect between friends, partners and co-workers; and with a good book or a creative task.
Coffee and tea are the lesser of many indulgent habits, and enjoy a status of universal acceptance in small social gatherings the world over. Because of this, the consumption of hot caffeinated beverages can be difficult to taper when health restrictions call for it.
Pregnant women are advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) to limit their caffeine intake to a level considered moderate, between 200-300 mg daily–the rough equivalent of two 8 oz cups of normally brewed coffee. While coffee has the highest levels of caffeine, tea and chocolate are also factored, as illustrated in the following chart.
Caffeine Content of Foods and Beverages
|Food and Beverages||Milligrams of Caffeine (Average)|
|Coffee (8 oz)||13776|
|Tea (8 oz)||4826–36|
|Caffeinated soft drinks (12 oz)||37|
|Hot cocoa (12 oz)||8–12|
|Chocolate milk (8 oz)||5–8|
Dark chocolate (1.45 oz)
Milk chocolate (1.55 oz)
Semi-sweet chocolate (1/4 cup)
Chocolate syrup (1 tbsp)
|Coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt (1/2 cup)||2|
Coffee Companies Give Good News
The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) refutes studies that support a positive relationship between caffeine consumption and adverse reproductive or perinatal outcomes. “Studies available from the last decade do not provide convincing evidence that moderate caffeine consumption (200-300 mg per day from all sources, not simply coffee) increases the risk of any reproductive complication,” and adverse effects are not routinely observed.
ISIC–whose members are comprised of the seven major European coffee companies: illycaffè, Mondelez International, Lavazza, Nestlé, Paulig, DE Master Blenders 1753 and Tchibo–goes so far as to allege bias in the evidence presented by scientists. “As with studies of miscarriage, the interpretation of the work on caffeine and fetal death needs to consider that these studies may also share common sources of bias, which may explain the observed relationship with caffeine use.”
Nevertheless, ISIC does concede that the reputation of caffeine, in general (and coffee in specific), has suffered due to some valid cases. These seem to be enough to inflate caffeine’s bad press: “Studies of pregnancy loss and fetal growth have generated more interest due to the frequency with which adverse effects are reported in connection with caffeine use.”
The Bad News: Undergrowth
A Biomed Central study published in February 2013 concludes, however, that caffeine intake is consistently associated with decreased birth weight and increased odds of babies being small for their gestational age (SGA). More importantly, these findings were reported using levels of caffeine much lower than what is considered moderate by ISIC and WHO. In the study, the median caffeine intake of mothers was only 44 mg/day at gestational week 17 and 62 mg/day at gestational week 30. The study concluded that a “moderate” caffeine intake of 200-300 mg/day increases the odds for SGA, as compared to 0-50 mg/day. It was also found that coffee caffeine, but not caffeine from other sources, was associated with marginally prolonged gestation.
The British Medical Journal published a report from the CARE Study Group in 2008, which found that caffeine consumption before and during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction. “Sensible advice would be to reduce caffeine intake before conception and throughout pregnancy,” the group added.
Catering to those who want to limit their caffeine intake, while living in a coffee culture, the alternative market has put numerous caffeine-free coffee substitutes online and in health food stores. More adventurous consumers blend their own using ground roasted barley. The resulting taste varies by formula, with some, like Teecino, claiming to taste just like coffee.
The best properties of caffeine-free herbal and grain beverages are the vitamins and minerals that provide long-lasting energy and strength not found in stimulating coffees and teas that only provide a quick boost. An alternative switch might be bad news for coffee producers, but good news for mother and baby.