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Thou shalt avoid caffeine

If you like your coffee, you are not going to like what I'm going to tell you next, but you need to know.  Caffeine consumption has been linked not only to slow conception, but also to miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.  In her book 'The Fertility Diet' Sarah Dobbyn describes caffeinated beverages as “liquid contraceptives”, stating that “drinking as little as one cup of coffee a day decreases your fertility and cuts your chance of conceiving in half!”. 1

Let me be frank here – there is not a lot of research available in this area yet and some of the studies done have been inconclusive for various reasons.  It is a controversial issue.  This being the case, many organisations are simply recommending decreasing caffeine intake during pregnancy.  For example, this is what is on the NZFSA website: “Drinks containing caffeine, including coffee, teas and colas, should be limited during pregnancy. You may want to consider giving up caffeine altogether. Have no more than six cups of tea or instant coffee, or three espresso-style coffees daily. Energy drinks and ‘smart drinks’ are not recommended as they may contain high levels of caffeine and other ingredients not recommended for pregnant and breast-feeding women.”  No more than six cups of instant coffee??  I really don't consider that limiting caffeine. 

Unfortunately, much of the time dietary recommendations are not so much what is good for us but rather a compromise between what is ideal and what authorities imagine we might find “practicable”.  This is a shame.  We should have a right to accurate information on what would be ideal, then we can make our own decisions about what is or isn't practicable.  Some people may not think cutting out caffeine altogether is practicable, but really, not being able to conceive isn't very practicable either!  I certainly wouldn't be taking the NZFSA's advice on this one, I would be more likely to trust Dr Mercola who advises that “Pregnant women should NEVER drink coffee”2 - if you are pregnant or breast-feeding or planning to be, please jump on line and read this article (see footnote), it is excellent.

Although research is limited, we can use a little logic and see that we really should be avoiding caffeine entirely as far as possible when trying to conceive and when pregnant.  “Caffeine crosses the placenta easily (Aldridge et al., 1981Go) and is found in both the fetus and in the newborn infant (Cazeneuve et al., 1994Go). Exposure to caffeine during pregnancy has, although not consistently, been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as spontaneous abortion and stillbirth (Wisborg et al., 2003Go; Bech et al., 2005Go), reduced birthweight and intrauterine growth restriction (Grosso and Bracken, 2005Go).”3  Given what caffeine can do to baby when you are already pregnant, it makes sense that it would also affect conception.  It may be putting paid to a potential pregnancy before it even begins. 

Its not just the ladies that need to worry.  'Researchers have noted an increase in miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births among the babies of men who drank caffeine even when their female partner didn't; they attributed this to caffeine's negative affect on the production of sperm.'4  Because sperm take about 3 months to produce, this means that ideally men should be avoiding caffeine for at least 3 months before conception. 

So coffee is quite obviously out, but what about other sources of caffeine.  Well, energy drinks and other fizzy drinks like coke are out, they are full of rubbish and not good for anyone, let alone the pregnant and trying to be pregnant (I will go into more detail in a future article).  But what about tea?  Tea contains less caffeine than coffee so it is relatively better, but given that foetuses have no ability at all to detoxify caffeine5 I would recommend avoiding anything at all with caffeine in it. 

What about chocolate?  Chocolate does contain only relatively small amounts of caffeine.  “There is a moderate amount of caffeine in dark chocolate, not nearly as much as in coffee, and it would not be typical for someone to consume enough dark chocolate in a single sitting to equal the amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee.”6  The amount of caffeine in the chocolate depends on whether it is dark or milk, but I'm hoping you will have all read my previous article on dairy and wouldn't be eating milk chocolate anyway!  Also, although dark chocolate contains more caffeine than milk chocolate, it is very difficult to sit down and eat a whole block of plain dark chocolate, but I couldn't say the same for milk chocolate.  The amount of chocolate consumed tends to be inversely proportionate to how dark it is, the darker it is the less you eat.  So if you really really must, then please choose dark chocolate.  However, I am going to stick with my previous recommendation that you avoid all caffeine while pregnant or trying to be, which means chocolate is out.  I hear you all groaning as I write this – is she out of her mind?  Just remember, it is a relatively short time in your life and it is for the good of your unborn child, you can do it!!  

So now that we are done with the bad news, how about some good news?  It isn't really all that hard to give up caffeine entirely, it is just about breaking old habits.  One of the easiest ways I have found to break an old habit is to replace it with a new one.  So I suggest you replace coffee and tea with rooibus (red bush) tea.  This “miracle tea”, as the South Africans call it, contains over 50% more anti-oxidants than green tea7 and contains lower levels of  tannins than green or black tea, which can bind with iron and prevent absorption.  What about chocolate?  Try carob.  Not only is it caffeine free, but it contains three times as much calcium as cocoa powder.  To substitute carob powder for cocoa powder, replace one part cocoa with 2-1/2 parts carob powder by weight. Carob chips can easily be substituted for chocolate chips in recipes.8  If you buy carob products though, please be careful to check the ingredients list for what has been added to it.  Some carob chips will contain dairy, don't use these.    

1) The Fertility Diet, Sarah Dobbyn, p.48



4) The Fertility Diet, Sarah Dobbyn, p.48





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