Caffeine alert for expectant mums

Doctors urge pregnant women to reduce caffeine intake after study links stimulant to stillborn and underweight babies.

A US National Institute of Health and Ohio State University study published in March showed women and men who consumed at least at least two caffeinated drinks a day in the weeks prior to conception were at greater risk for potential miscarriage. Ben Pruchnie /Getty Images
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AJMAN // Pregnant women are being warned about the potential dangers of drinking too much coffee following a study linking caffeine with underweight and stillborn babies.

The findings, from the University of Ajman’s clinical pharmacy department, are from a study of 97 expectant mothers in Al Ain who consumed varying quantities of caffeine, with 61.9 per cent regularly drinking coffee, 34 per cent tea and 4.1 per cent soft drinks during pregnancy.

More than half (55 per cent) had a miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion. A further 10.3 per cent suffered a stillbirth and 17.5 per cent gave birth to underweight babies.

Caffeine can affect the body’s ability to absorb iron, so brings the added risk of anaemia in pregnant women as well as an abnormal maternal heart rate and increased blood pressure.

“It is very frustrating when you see a pregnant woman as a patient for the first time and she has little knowledge of how to take care of herself or what good nutrition is,” said Dr Zainab Ibrahim, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Medeor 24x7 Hospital in Dubai.

“A pregnant woman will take twice as long to metabolise the caffeine, and three times as long during the last three months of her pregnancy. It can be difficult for some women to cut down on their coffee or tea intake immediately, so I advise them to switch to decaffeinated alternatives.”

Caffeine is commonly found in chocolate, black and green tea and many soft drinks, but also in some body lotions used to treat stretch marks.

Coffee is a cultural cornerstone of UAE life but intake needs to be monitored during pregnancy, with doctors advising a daily limit of 200 milligrams – about two cups of brewed coffee.

Several studies have produced evidence for an increased risk of miscarriage or early stillbirth delivery among pregnant women who consumed more than moderate amounts of caffeine.

A US National Institute of Health and Ohio State University study published in March showed women and men who consumed at least at least two caffeinated drinks a day in the weeks prior to conception were at greater risk for potential miscarriage. Women who drank more than two caffeinated drinks a day during the first seven weeks of pregnancy were also more likely to miscarry.

The World Health Organisation shows the UAE had a rate of 3.6 stillbirths per 1,000 pregnancies in 2009, the latest figures available, a rate similar to the UK. Finland had the lowest rate at just two per 1,000 while Pakistan was the highest at 46.7.

“I try to understand a mother’s dietary habits so I can give her the right advice for any changes so she does not harm herself, or her baby,” Dr Ibrahim said.

“Some women have good knowledge, but there are many who do not understand what they should and should not be eating while they are pregnant.

“Arab nationalities traditionally take more caffeine because it is part of the culture, but all women need to be aware of the risks.”

Excessive caffeine can lead to a irregular or increasd heart rate.

Unicef figures show that between 2008 and2012, 6.1 per cent of babies in the UAE had a low birth weight, also a risk associated with caffeine intake.

According to a Euromonitor report, the UAE is one of the fastest-growing coffee consumers. After an 85 per cent growth in sales between 2004 and 2009, the forecast was for sales growth to continue at 80 per cent between 2009 and 2014.

Dr Hiam Ahmed Harfoush, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi said women needed to be aware of their diets during pregnancy.

“Not all pregnant women have a good understanding of the damage a poor diet can cause their child,” she said.

“Caffeine can affect the metabolism of the baby and when the unborn baby’s liver is not mature, it can cause damage. Some women are asking for nutritional advice, but many more are not.”

nwebster@thenational.ae

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