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Call for clear caffeine guidance for pregnant women

Wednesday November 18th 2020

Guidance on caffeine consumption during pregnancy must be clearer, experts say today.

A study led by Professor Alexander Heazell at the University of Manchester, UK, and backed by the charity Tommy’s confirmed the stillbirth risk from high caffeine consumption and found that “safe limits in the guidelines need to be reconsidered”.

The study took figures from more than 1,000 pregnant women receiving care at 41 UK hospitals between 2014 and 2016. Some 290 of the women had experienced a stillbirth after 28 weeks.

Information on stillbirth risk was combined with the results from a questionnaire about caffeinated drinks, plus other risk factors including alcohol and cigarettes.

This showed a 27% increase in stillbirth risk for each 100mg of caffeine per day.

The current NHS guidance is to stay below 200mg per day, and the World Health Organization guidance suggests a maximum of 300mg.

Over half of the participants had reduced caffeine during their pregnancy, but 5% increased their intake.

The study showed that the top source of caffeine was tea, although its caffeine level is fairly low, at around 75mg per mug. There was no risk from decaffeinated coffee or tea, chai tea, green tea or hot chocolate.

Results are published today (18 November) in the European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The researchers, partly funded by the charity Tommy’s, explain that 80% of UK adults drink coffee daily, and the average person drinks 211.5 litres of (often highly caffeinated) soft drinks a year.

Professor Heazell says: “It’s a risk this research suggests many aren’t aware of. The national guidelines should be the limit, not the goal.”

Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin added: “Health care professionals may need training to help them get these messages across.”

The findings were welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives. Dr Mary Ross Davie, representing the college, said: “The clarity this Tommy’s study provides on the need for pregnant women to reduce caffeine from all sources, not just from coffee, is exceptionally helpful, for midwives and pregnant women alike. A single energy drink contains half of a pregnant woman’s maximum recommended daily allowance of caffeine – 200mg - yet she may not realise it.

“It is so valuable for midwives, maternity care professionals and women to understand more about this crucial issue so that we can continue to reduce the number of stillbirths each year in the UK.”

Heazell, A. et al. European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 18 November 2020

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Diet & Food | Nursing & Midwifery | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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