The Caffeine Buzz

I am not a morning person. Everyone who knows me can attest that I am a true Night Owl and that early mornings don’t work for me. However, the world of Obstetrics functions 24/7, and we start our days early. Like most people, I need my morning coffee to get my day started, and a second- or third!- cup is not uncommon during a hectic day. We have become the Coffee Generation: we start and end our days with it, and we consume it regularly throughout the day. In fact, there is a whole “coffee culture” in our society that emphasizes how perfectly the well-placed coffee house with its myriad of stimulant-laden beverages is needed in our lives.

Limit Your Intake

However, when a woman becomes pregnant one of the first things we teach her is to limit her caffeine intake. For some women, this is the hardest adjustment to make for the duration of their pregnancy. I recommend limiting caffeine to 200 mg/day for a reason: the data about caffeine is inconclusive but the evidence that does exist suggests that it leads to birth defects, premature labor, or preterm delivery when used in excess of 200 mg/day. Caffeine is a stimulant that can lead to undesirable increases in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure or heart rate. Further, caffeine is a diuretic which leads to increased urination (and women are already spending a majority of their time in the bathroom while pregnant!) that can contribute to dehydration; dehydration makes the uterus irritable and causes premature uterine contractions.

Further, caffeine crosses the placenta, stimulates the baby and leads to sleep cycle disturbances, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, that carry over into infancy. Babies can’t metabolize caffeine so the stimulant effects last longer. Therefore, I recommend that women consume no more than 200mg of caffeine daily, which is the equivalent of a 10-12 oz. cup of regularly brewed coffee per day. The problem is that caffeine is in more than just coffee. Tea, chocolate, soda, and even some over-the-counter medications contain significant amounts of caffeine that can have the same effect on both mother and baby as a cup of coffee.

Photo by Jenna Norman

There are many women who, like me, need the “Morning Jolt” to get their day going. Moreover, there are many women who do shift work, multi-task, or work long hours. Caffeine, then, becomes a necessary evil. However, there are some alternatives a woman can reach for to fend off fatigue and get a recharge. One of the simplest and easiest alternatives I teach women is to grab for cold water.  Dehydration is the biggest energy-drainer. Pregnant women tend to not consume enough liquids, especially water, and mild stages of dehydration can cause tiredness and irritability. A full glass of cold water may do the trick to ward off the nagging feeling of tiredness, especially during the day. Similarly, hunger can make pregnant women feel run down or have no energy. A high protein or fiber snack may satisfy hunger and provide a needed boost of energy. Sodas and sugary drinks should be avoided; they contain about 20-22mg of caffeine but typically loads of useless sugars, food colorings, and flavorings.

If a simple fix won’t do, I teach women to reach for beverages that have flavor but less caffeine. Green tea, for example, is loaded with healthy antioxidants and only 40 mg of caffeine compared to the 400mg of caffeine found in a 10 ounce cup of brewed coffee from one of the major retail coffee houses. Chocolate milk makes a healthier alternative to a cup of coffee, especially if its homemade.

Photo by Wine Dharma

Homemade Chocolate Milk

A simple recipe is: one cup of low fat milk that is mixed with a teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder and stirred.

Additional teaspoons of cocoa powder, and dashes of sugar or natural sweeteners like agave, can be added to adjust taste. The milk provides protein and other nutrients while the cocoa provides flavor and only about 8 mg of caffeine.

Listen to Your Body / Baby

Caffeine does not have to be cut out totally but needs to be consumed carefully while pregnant. A pregnant woman should see how her baby is reacting after she finishes her caffeinated drink: if the baby is more vigorous or active immediately after, the caffeine may be too much. Decaffeinated drinks may satisfy the craving for a specific beverage but often those drinks have a different taste that just isn’t the same as the real thing.  I’m interested to hear what other women do to satisfy their caffeine cravings? What is your go-to drink or snack when you need a pick-me-up?

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