Midwives are backing a call from scientists for a “radical revision” of health guidelines so mums-to-be are told to cut their caffeine intake to zero during pregnancy.
Caffeine consumption in any amount during pregnancy is bad for the baby, according to an analysis published in the BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.
NHS guidance, which recommends limiting caffeine intake in pregnancy to 200mg a day, equal to two mugs of instant coffee, could now be changed.
Dr Mary Ross-Davie, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “There is a need to ensure women are able to make informed choices about what they eat and drink during pregnancy.
“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.”
Professor Jack James, of Reykjavik University in Iceland, studied 1,261 peer-reviewed articles linking caffeine to pregnancy outcomes.
He said: “Maternal caffeine consumption was associated with increased risk for four adverse outcomes: miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, and childhood acute leukaemia.” Four of five observational studies had also reported significant links between a mother’s caffeine intake and later childhood obesity. Prof James said: “Scientific evidence supports pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy being advised to avoid caffeine.”
He said the caffeine-related risk was reported with “moderate to high levels of consistency” for all the outcomes.
Cutting out tea and coffee completely could be a struggle for many women. Latest figures show that more than 165 million cups of tea are consumed daily in Britain, and 95 million cups of coffee.
That works out at an average of five teas or coffees per day for most adults. However, Daghni Rajasingam, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “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.
“As the study notes, high levels of caffeine during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and babies having a low birth weight and may lead to excess weight gain in the child’s early years, which can increase risk of health problems later in life.
“However, as other – and potentially more reliable – research has found, pregnant women do not need to cut caffeine out entirely because these risks are extremely small, even if the recommended caffeine limits are exceeded.”