Pregnant women warned to limit coffee drinking

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Pregnant women should drink no more than four cups of instant coffee a day to reduce the risk of giving birth to underweight babies or suffering miscarriages, a Government watchdog said on Wednesday.

Pregnant women should drink no more than four cups of instant coffee a day to reduce the risk of giving birth to underweight babies or suffering miscarriages, a Government watchdog said on Wednesday.

A review for the Food Standards Agency concluded that pregnant women should limit their intake to 300mg of caffeine a day. That is equivalent to four cups of instant coffee, three cups of fresh coffee, six cups of tea, eight cans of regular cola drinks, four cans of "energy" drinks or 400 grammes of chocolate.

Previously, the Department of Health had advised pregnant women to "moderate" their caffeine consumption. But an independent committee, which carried out the review, has now given a recommended maximum intake.

Suzi Leather, deputy chairwoman of the agency, said: "In practice, this doesn't mean cutting out coffee completely, but is about taking a sensible precaution and not having more than the equivalent of four cups of coffee a day.

"Of course it's easy to forget that it's not just coffee that contains caffeine, but tea, soft drinks and chocolate too."

During pregnancy, women are slower to metabolise caffeine, taking 18 hours to clear the equivalent of one cup of coffee from the system compared with a norm of four to six hours.

If women consume too much caffeine, the levels of stimulant in their blood will gradually build, with each cup of coffee adding to the burden. Since caffeine crosses the placenta, the unborn baby will be affected.

The committee said consuming more than 300mg of caffeine a day could be linked to low birthweight and, in some cases, miscarriage.

The agency listed the average caffeine contents of various foods and drinks to help pregnant women "mix and match" their quota. They are: cup of instant coffee, 75mg; mug of coffee, 100mg; cup of brewed coffee, 100mg; cup of tea, 50mg; cola drink, up to 40mg; energy drink, up to 80mg; and bar of chocolate, up to 50mg. Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine.

Last year, researchers in Sweden said pregnant women who drank more than four cups of coffee a day were at double the risk of miscarrying.

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