MATERNAL SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT  
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TEN MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CONSUMING CAFFEINE DURING PREGNANCY

1. Is consuming caffeine during pregnancy harmful for my baby?

In 1980, the United States Food and Drug Administration removed caffeine from the list of drugs generally regarded as safe and advised pregnant women to restrict or eliminate caffeine consumption. Although it is unclear, to date, whether consuming small amounts of caffeine during pregnancy affects fetal development, several studies have suggested that consuming high amounts (more than the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee per day = 300 mg. caffeine) of caffeine during pregnancy may be harmful.

2. How does caffeine reach the fetus?

During pregnancy, the fetus receives all of its oxygen and nutrients from the mother through the placenta. Caffeine crosses the placenta easily, because of its low molecular weight and high lipid solubility.

3. What impact will consuming caffeine during pregnancy have on my baby?

Most studies show that small amounts of caffeine have negligible effects on the fetus (they may be a little more aroused, physiologically, at birth, but the effects are temporary). However, large amounts of caffeine have been associated with heart defects in a very small number of babies. Large amounts of caffeine have also been related to lower birth weight and an elevated risk of spontaneous abortion.

4. What are some of the behavioral characteristics seen in newborns that have been prenatally exposed to HIGHER amounts of caffeine?

Studies have found behavioral effects that include a slightly higher heart rate, more startles and tremors, and lower consol ability.

5. Are there long-term effects of being prenatally exposed to caffeine?

Very little is known about the effect of prenatal caffeine exposure on the subsequent development of an infant and child. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that prenatal exposure to small amounts of caffeine has any long-term, harmful effects.

6. How much caffeine can I safely consume during pregnancy?

Until we know more about the potential dangers of caffeine to fetal development, it is recommended that pregnant women and women actively trying to get pregnant avoid caffeine as much as possible.

7. I'm already in my third trimester and I've been consuming caffeine throughout my pregnancy. Is it too late to stop consuming caffeine?

It is never too late to stop doing anything (including consuming caffeine) that may be harmful to your baby. Since the fetus gains the majority of its weight during the third trimester, your baby is less likely to have a reduced birth weight if you stop consuming caffeine even as late as your third trimester.

8. What products have caffeine in them?

Caffeine can be found in a variety of products, including: coffee (approximately 85 mg per 8 oz. serving), tea (approximately 60 mg per 8 oz. serving), soda (e.g., colas, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Jolt - averaging 40 mg per 12 oz. can), aspirin (32 mg per tablet), some cold medicines (15-30 mg per tablet), and "Stay-awake" drugs such as No Doz and Vivarin (100-200 mg per tablet).

9. Can I safely consume caffeine while breastfeeding my baby?

Just as caffeine easily passes through the placenta to get to your baby, it is also passed into your breast milk. The concentration of caffeine in breast milk is low, but caffeine accumulates in the infant across exposures, particularly in the first months of postnatal life. Therefore, it is recommended that you continue to avoid consuming caffeine while you are breastfeeding.

Updated by Karen Kuehn Howell, Ph.D. in January 2005

 

 

 

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The Maternal Substance Abuse and Child Development Study is under the direction of Claire D. Coles Ph.D., with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Emory University School of Medicine. For more information, please contact: Claire D. Coles: ccoles@emory.edu ; Karen K. Howell: khowell@emory.edu

 
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