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SUNDAY DECEMBER 20

HEALTH DEBATE

CAN YOU HAVE CAFFEINE DURING PREGNANCY? THE DOCTOR DR CINDY PAN

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t is now widely acknowledged that excessive caffeine intake can significantly increase one’s risk of miscarriage and low-birth-weight babies. The question is, how much is too much? The fact is that for many of us, coffee, tea, Coke and many other previously enjoyed beverages and foods simply lose their appeal when we fall pregnant. Along with the nausea, it is quite common to develop a strong natural aversion to coffee and tea, even the decaffeinated variety, and even (believe it or not) chocolate can lose its appeal. Perhaps this is nature’s way of protecting us. For those women who do not naturally lose their lust for things caffeinated, most health authorities, including those from the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, agree moderation is key. It is not necessary to totally abstain, but if you are a caffeine fiend, cutting back is essential. Having the occasional weak cuppa won’t do any harm, but try to minimise your intake where possible.

Don’t forget caffeine is present not only in coffee but in tea, Coke and fizzy drinks, “energy” drinks, cocoa, chocolate and even some medications and herbal preparations. Ideally, start cutting back before falling pregnant (excessive caffeine can adversely affect fertility), and do it gradually so as to avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches. Some simple ways to cut back include substituting with decaffeinated brews or simply steeping the tea for shorter periods. If you want to go the whole hog and give up caffeine altogether, by all means go for it, but unfortunately it won’t guarantee no miscarriage. On the other hand, if you do indulge in the occasional weak brown brew and subsequently miscarry, don’t blame yourself or allow yourself to be consumed with self-recrimination, since most miscarriages are the result of chromosomal abnormalities. They are nature’s way of dealing with genetic mistakes that were destined to threaten the baby’s survival, caffeine or no caffeine. As Dr Carolyn Westhoff, professor of obstetrics, gynaecology and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, says: “Moderation in all things is still an excellent rule. I think we tend to go overboard on saying expose your body to zero anything when pregnant. The human race wouldn’t have succeeded if the early pregnancy was so vulnerable to a little bit of anything. We’re more robust than that.”

■ Dr Cindy Pan has had over 10 years of clinical practice experience. Her books include Pandora’s Box: Lifting The Lid On Life’s Little Nasties (HarperCollins) and Playing Hard To Get (HarperCollins). She appears on television, lectures and speaks about all aspects of health, relationships and wellbeing.

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t is imperative that women who are planning conception, are pregnant or who are breastfeeding abstain from caffeine in all forms. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness. It slightly increases blood pressure and heart rate and increases urine production. Some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Pregnant women may be especially sensitive to it because they take longer to clear caffeine from the body than individuals who are not pregnant. It has been shown that caffeine passes to the unborn baby through the placenta within 30 minutes, mildly constricting blood vessels and decreasing blood flow for several hours which may harm the baby. One study comparing pregnant women showed that when the caffeine intake increased from less than 100g a day to 100-199mg, the risk of having a lower-birth-weight baby increased 20 per cent. When the intake reached 200-299mg, the risk rose 40 percent; and when it topped 300mg the risk jumped 50 per cent. Statistics indicate that caffeine intake of more than 200mg per day is linked with miscarriage and heavy intakes during late pregnancy can cause newborns to be unsettled, crying and irritable for up to three days as they withdraw from caffeine. Not a good prospect! A new study found that women who consume 200mg of caffeine or more a day are twice as

THE NATUROPATH LEAH HECHTMAN likely as women who consume no caffeine to have a miscarriage. The source of the caffeine does not matter; the risk appears to be the same for caffeine from coffee, tea, soft drinks and other foods and beverages. Also remember that some medications and herbal medicines such as guarana contain caffeine. Women should be aware of this so they can limit their intake when they are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Caffeine addicts out there are probably reading this and thinking, “As long as I consume less that 100mg per day I should be fine”. Theoretically this may be possible but consider how much caffeine we consume without intending to in cakes, dark chocolate and so on. A lot of people also forget that green and white tea, although healthier choices than black tea, still contain caffeine. My suggestion is to avoid caffeine completely from preconception until you’ve ceased breastfeeding. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

■ Leah Hechtman is a naturopath and fertility specialist. She is a lecturer, author, researcher and industry consultant and has her own clinical practice in Sydney, NSW. She specialises in fertility, reproductive and psychological health. For more information visit www.naturalhealthfertility.com

EVEN BETTER THAN RED WINE? 1 TABLET

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(Resveratrol goodness of 146* glasses of some red wine)

THE GOODNESS OF *

146 GLASSES

Caffeine_and_Pregnancy  

1 TABLET THE NATUROPATH LEAH HECHTMAN THE DOCTOR DR CINDY PAN GLASSES 07 SUNDAY ■ Dr Cindy Pan has had over 10 years of clinical practice ex...

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