Friday, January 26, 2007

Thank You, Science!

I haven't given up caffeine while pregnant, and I was always kind of perplexed when people asked if I had. Because I had not found any research showing that there was a concern, except for very heavy consumption in the early weeks of pregnancy. According to this article, some doctors thought caffeine might contribute to low birth weight, but not so, according to the study.

I've even heard of women giving up CHOCOLATE while pregnant. Please -- if everyone felt like they had to give up chocolate to have a baby, think what would happen to the birthrate.,1,4042415.story
Pregnant women get a coffee break

By Judy Peres
Tribune staff reporter

January 26, 2007

Pregnant coffee drinkers take heart: A new study provides evidence that moderate caffeine intake will not cause a baby to be born early or underweight.

Doctors still agree it's probably not a good idea to have 10 grande lattes a day. But with the new data, "you're essentially telling women, `Don't worry about it.' We can drink coffee during pregnancy and not have problems," said Dr. Marilynn Frederiksen, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Although fears that caffeine could lead to birth defects and miscarriage have largely been allayed in recent years, questions remained about whether it might be linked to birth weight and premature birth.

The latest study, reported Thursday in the online version of the British Medical Journal, is the first to attempt a controlled, randomized trial--the gold standard of medical investigation.

1,200 women in study

Danish researchers recruited more than 1,200 healthy women in the early months of pregnancy who admitted drinking at least three cups of coffee a day. The women were randomly assigned to receive either regular or decaffeinated instant coffee in unmarked packages.

The women were instructed to replace their usual coffee, at home and at work, with the contents of the packages, but they were allowed to drink coffee, tea, cocoa and cola served by others.

Throughout the second half of their pregnancies the women were asked to report their daily consumption of mystery coffee and other sources of caffeine. Those interviews were used to calculate their actual caffeine intake.

The researchers confirmed that the women assigned decaf consumed less caffeine than the others--an average of 117 milligrams per day compared with 317 milligrams.

No significant differences occurred between the two groups in the birth weight of their babies or the frequency of preterm delivery--even among women who drank more than seven cups of coffee a day. The babies in both groups averaged about 7 pounds 12 ounces, and the rate of premature births was 4 to 5 percent.

Smoking mattered

The only significant difference was between smokers and non-smokers: Women who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day when they entered the trial had babies that weighed nearly 10 ounces less if they were assigned to drink regular coffee than if they got decaf.

The researchers noted that smokers metabolize caffeine faster than non-smokers and said it's possible the activity of a particular metabolite could influence fetal growth.

The study is a bit of fresh air "for these poor, beleaguered pregnant women who are told they can't eat peanut butter because of aflatoxins and they can't eat fish because of mercury," said Dr. Linda Hughey Holt, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University.

Dr. Nancy Green, medical director for the March of Dimes, said she would not encourage pregnant women to consume unlimited amounts of caffeine.

1 doctor's caveat

Even though there was no difference overall between the Danish coffee drinkers and their decaf-imbibing counterparts, Green said it's possible some women are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

"I'm not willing to say it doesn't matter," she said. "For an individual woman, to reduce the risk of an adverse outcome, it's reasonable to limit caffeine to a modest amount. Because it might matter for some women, and we don't know how to identify those for whom it will have an impact."

Asked how she defined "a modest amount," Green replied, "A cup or two in the morning--as long as your cup is not bathtub-size."

That was good news for Frederiksen's patients.

Amanda Kelly, 30, a Northwest Side lawyer who is pregnant with her second child, said she has a Diet-Coke habit of at least two or three cans a day. During her first pregnancy, Kelly said, "I tried to keep it under one a day. But this time I'm more lax. Somehow, I don't feel it's that big a deal."

Courtney Magliochetti, 31, a stay-at-home mom in Roscoe Village, said she's been limiting her coffee intake to one "grande half-decaf cup a day, and only when I really need it." Told the results of the study, Magliochetti said she might up it to a venti.

Dr. Bodil Hammer Bech, the Danish epidemiologist who conducted the study, said the National Board of Health in his country advises women to drink no more than three cups of coffee a day.

Bech said his bottom line was that "moderate consumption of caffeine during pregnancy has no influence on the growth of the fetus."

In case you were wondering, half the women assigned to decaf guessed the type of coffee they received, but only one-third of those who got regular coffee knew what they were drinking.

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