Pregnant women should avoid caffeine completely - study

25 August 2020, 08:46

Current guidelines from the NHS stipulate women should limit caffeine to 200 milligrams a day
Current guidelines from the NHS stipulate women should limit caffeine to 200 milligrams a day. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Women who are pregnant or trying for a baby should consider cutting caffeine from their diet completely to avoid increased health risks, a new study has suggested.

The research, which looked at data from 37 studies, found caffeine significantly increased the risk of adverse outcomes such as stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight in 32 of the reports.

It also reported an increase in childhood acute leukaemia, obesity and other weight problems.

Published in the BMJ Evidence Based Medicine journal, study author Professor Jack James, of Reykjavik University in Iceland, argued that current NHS guidelines - which advise a limited caffeine intake of 200 milligrams a day - were "not consistent with the level of threat" it could pose.

He added: "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."

But Daghni Rajasingham, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the results of the new study offered supporting evidence to limit caffeine intake, but there was still no need to completely avoid.

She noted "potentially more reliable" research had found the risks posed by limited caffeine were "extremely small" - and even when recommended limits are exceeded.

She added: "The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' advise to limit caffeine intake to 200 milligrams per day - the equivalent to two cups of instant coffee - still stands.

"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."

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Meanwhile, Dr Mary Ross-Davie, director for Scotland at the Royal College of Midwives, said she hoped the UK's guidance would now be reviewed, and stressed the importance ensuring women are able to make informed decisions about their diet during pregnancy.

She said: "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.

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"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."