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Can you or I drink decaffeinated coffee while pregnant?

We're often asked this question:

Can you or I drink decaffeinated coffee while pregnant?

For many people, decaf coffee is still heavily associated with being pregnant. It's a really important question: 'How much coffee can I drink when I'm pregnant?'

There is still a lot of confusion about how much caffeine pregnant mums can drink and this is what this post is all about.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' advice is to limit caffeine intake to 200 milligrams per day - the equivalent to two cups of instant coffee.

According to the NHS, if you’re pregnant, you should really limit the amount of caffeine you consume to 200 milligrams (mg) a day, which is the equivalent of one cup of filter coffee or 2 cups of instant coffee.

This is where decaf can really come into its own. A lot of mums just decide to go completely decaf and often feel the benefits of living caffeine free and don’t go back.

In some ways, it’s well worth considering going completely decaffeinated during the pregnancy because caffeine is found naturally in lots of foods, such as tea and chocolate. It’s also added to some soft drinks, energy drinks, and cold and flu remedies.  

The amount of caffeine found in some foods and drinks is as follows:

  • one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
  • one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
  • one mug of tea: 75mg
  • one can of cola: 40mg
  • one can of energy drink: up to 80mg
  • one 50g bar of plain chocolate: most products on the UK market contain less than 25mg
  • one 50g bar of milk chocolate: most products on the UK market contain less than 10mg

Sometimes, these warnings can sound overly scary, so don’t worry if you occasionally exceed the recommended limit, because the risks are quite small and it’s all about moderation.  

High levels of caffeine during pregnancy can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. Caffeine can also increase the risk of a miscarriage.  

That being said, you don’t need to cut caffeine out completely, but you should limit how much you have to no more than 200mg a day.

Swapping your morning drink with decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or water, and definitely cutting out any energy drinks you have, as they can be high in caffeine.

Even soft drinks can contain high levels of caffeine, so make sure you read the ingredients. It’s also worth talking to your midwife, pharmacist or another healthcare professional before taking any medicines, including cold and flu remedies.

 

Then, there’s the question of whether decaf is safe for pregnant women. This question mark harks back to the old days of decaf in the 1970s when strong chemicals were used to remove the caffeine.

These days, processes such as Swiss Water Decaf are very safe indeed and use no chemicals, as well as being 99.9% caffeine free, so please feel safe and healthy in drinking decaf coffee when pregnant!

Having said all that, the  vast majority of decaffeinated coffee is still decaffeinated using Methylene Chloride including some famous worldwide coffee chains.

So if a roastery or cafes doesn't mention the decaf process they use, then it's probably safe to assume they don't want to make it known that they use chemicals to decaffeinate their beans.

In a 2020 study, scientists advised to cut caffeine completely instead of limiting caffeine intake.

What was the Study?

Conducted by Reykjavik University in Iceland, led by Professor Jack James and published in the BMJ Evidence Based Medicine Journal, the research was a “study of studies” examining data from 37 previous observational studies on caffeine and pregnancy.

What was its findings?

After analysing data from 37 studies then using Big Data analysis, the scientists found that caffeine significantly increased the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes including stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight.

There was also a higher chance of children being overweight or obese when born to mothers who consume caffeine during pregnancy and an increased risk of childhood acute leukaemia.

Professor James who led the study wrote:

"Current advice such as that issued by the NHS is not consistent with the level of threat indicated by biological plausibility of harm and extensive empirical evidence of actual harm…

…Accordingly, current health recommendations concerning caffeine consumption during pregnancy are in need of radical revision…

Specifically, the cumulative scientific evidence supports pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy being advised to avoid caffeine."

Daghni Rajasingham, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, countered in response to the results of the study

 "The findings of this study add to the large body of evidence that supports limited caffeine intake during pregnancy, but pregnant women do not need to completely cut out caffeine, as this paper suggests….

…This paper does not supersede all the other evidence that has found that a limited intake of caffeine is safe for the majority of pregnancy women."

Dr Mary Ross-Davie, director for Scotland at the Royal College of Midwives, responded:

 "There is a need to ensure that women are able to make informed choices about what they eat and drink during pregnancy, and midwives will support women to do that, taking into account this latest research…

…It is important that all available evidence is considered to shape UK recommendations, and we hope the current guidance will now be reviewed in light of these findings."


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