A new study links caffeine with an almost doubled risk of miscarriage. But don't freak out just yet, coffee lovers
As if the mere thought of giving up coffee for nine months isn't bad enough, a new Fertility and Sterility study says drinking three or more cups a day while just trying to conceive increases your risk of miscarriage by 74 percent. Yikes. (Related: Are Fertility Foods a Real Thing?)
For the study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health followed 501 couples through the ups and downs of both conception and pregnancy. Each of the couples tracked how much caffeine, alcohol, and fish they consumed, as well as if they smoked or took multivitamins. Unfortunately, 98 of the 344 couples that conceived within a year ended up losing the pregnancy. That's a full 28 percent. (How Bad Is Drinking While Pregnant?)
While a bunch of the authors' findings aren't super surprising— women who took a daily multivitamin while trying to get pregnant cut their miscarriage risk by 55 percent and those who were over 35-years-old were nearly twice as likely to lose their pregnancy compared to younger mamas—one finding definitely stopped us in our tracks.
Women who downed three or more caffeinated drinks per day (that includes coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks) while trying to get pregnant were 74 percent more like to miscarry compared to those who drank less. In the name of gender equality, it's worth noting that when guys were the ones drinking three-plus cups a day, couples were still 73 percent more likely to miscarry than if the man drank two or fewer cups.
Caffeine and Miscarriage: The Connection
While docs have known for some time now that too much caffeine intake during pregnancy, even during the first few weeks, is tied to a greater risk of miscarriage, this study is the first to look at pre-conception caffeine intake.
It's thought that caffeine intake may increase the risk of miscarriage by causing blood vessels to constrict, limiting nutrient-flow to the uterus, or by leaching out certain nutrients from the mother's body—but these theories aren't proven, says Julie M. Levitt, M.D., a board-certified OBGYN with the Women's Group of Northwestern in Chicago. Why might caffeine affect the quality of men's sperm? Experts aren't sure.
What's more, it's important to remember that this study does not prove that caffeine ups your risk of miscarriage, she says. It shows that the two are linked, not that one causes the other. "There are a lot of cofounding factors here," says Levitt. For instance, it's possible that women were drinking more caffeine because they weren't sleeping enough, were super-stressed, or had an underlying health issue that caused fatigue. Maybe some of the caffeine drinkers in the study just happened to be unhealthier and less prepared to carry a pregnancy in the first place, she says.
And, just for the record, getting your caffeine fix from coffee or green tea is completely different than perking up with an energy drink or soda, she says. Need we remind you how unhealthy the latter two are for your health? (See: 6 Foods That Are Off-Limits During Pregnancy.)
"Everything in Moderation"
Don't freak out about it, but try to keep your intake to two servings or less per day, says Levitt. Tell your sperm buddy to do the same. No, a Venti does not count as a single serving. A serving is eight ounces or a cup. Also, keep in mind that, while the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that consuming 200 mg of caffeine per day is safe during pregnancy, every coffee brew, tea type, and even soda and energy drink, contains a different amount of caffeine. Don't worry about tracking milligrams. Just remember that, on average, 200 mg equals one to two servings. Coffee generally packs more caffeine than tea, and blonde roasts contain more than darker ones.
But if cutting down on caffeine is good, wouldn't cutting it out be even better? Not necessarily. "Some doctors just say 'no' to caffeine because it's easier than risking patient interpretations," she says. "But it's better to enjoy coffee, and everything, in moderation than to completely cut it out if you're used to drinking it."
That's because, if you're a regular coffee drinker, slashing your habit can easily cause withdraw symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and headaches, she says. And without caffeine in your cup, your body will naturally crave junk food and sugar—both of which can be harmful to both mom and baby's health—for an energy boost. "Just because you don't drink caffeine doesn't mean you're being healthier," she says.
"It can be easy to say, if I knock out this or that out of my diet, I'll be fine. But it doesn't always work that way,"says Levitt. "Pregnancies can fail for a multitude of reasons, even if you do everything right. Don't blame yourself one way or the other."