Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking alcohol if you're intending to have a baby, but can you drink caffeine during pregnancy? Coffee is an important — nay, vital part of many of our lives; I don't know about you, but the thought of giving up caffeine makes me preemptively clutch my ever-present coffee mug and try to scratch out the eyes of anyone who attempts to take it away from me. It's not exactly a flattering portrait, but I'm in good company: An estimated 83 percent of adults in the United States drink at least one cup of coffee every day. (On the other hand, more of us are turning to tea for our sweet, sweet caffeine hits.)
Unfortunately, though, caffeine is one of the many vices women are encouraged to give up when they're trying to get pregnant, and according to a recent study, it's for good reason. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Ohio State University, Columbus, followed more than 500 couples trying to get pregnant, and their analyses turned up some disturbing news: Of those who became pregnant, the couples who drank more than two cups of coffee a day during early pregnancy were more likely to miscarry.
Furthermore, those who both drank more than two cups in the weeks leading up to conception — before the women even became pregnant — were also more likely to face miscarriage. Other factors that affected a pregnancy's outcome included the mother's age, which increased the risk of miscarriage, and daily multivitamin use, which decreased risk.
However, researchers emphasized that their study couldn't demonstrate cause and effect, nor was it designed to answer how caffeine affects a pregnancy. Although the results could mean that caffeine consumption contributes to miscarriage, they could just as easily indicate that caffeine consumption is a sign of an unhealthy pregnancy rather than a cause. For example, researchers pointed out that the food aversions resulting from a healthy pregnancy could cause women to avoid caffeine, while women who were likely to have a miscarriage anyway experienced no such aversion.
It's important to note that researchers looked at the lifestyle habits of women and men here — and men's caffeine intake was just as important as women's. "Our findings also indicate that the male partner matters, too,” lead researcher Dr. Germaine Buck Louis said. “Male preconception consumption of caffeinated beverages was just as strongly associated with pregnancy loss as females'.”
This is just the latest in a long line of studies challenging the notion that women are solely responsible for their baby's health. Although pregnancy is almost exclusively discussed in terms of how the mother's health affects the baby, a growing body of research shows that men contribute just as much. The Centers for Disease Control notes on its website that heavy drinking and cigarettes can damage sperm, and a father's age is linked with increased risk of a number of genetic diseases. In short, women aren't the only ones who should modify their behavior if they plan on getting pregnant.
As a whole, research on the link between caffeine and pregnancy is still inconclusive; for every study saying it's a bad idea, there's another one showing that it has no effect. Either way, the study supports what doctors have been telling women for some time: If you intend to have a baby, it's better to minimize your caffeine intake or avoid it entirely. This isn't to say all women should avoid caffeine on the off-chance they get pregnant — looking at you here, CDC — but if you're planning on keeping a baby, it's better safe than sorry.
In the meantime, everyone else can rejoice in their ability to chug as much caffeine as they want — it might not last.