Coffee is bad news, it does not care for our wellbeing… It enjoys long walks and socialising but is quietly sabotaging our health. Let’s face it, coffee is our best frenemy.
I feel like I need to start this post by saying, I’m not having a go at coffee drinkers… I would never… coffee lovers are a passionate people, and I’m not here to get between a sleep deprived mumma and her daily fix… after all I use to be a two latte a-day kinda girl.
I am writing this post because so much of what we do day-in and day-out is automatic… it becomes routine and we just don’t stop to question it (especially when ‘health authorities’ are doing the ‘thinking’ for us). But, I’m in the business of questioning things these days, and so I figured I’d share my reasons for abstaining from coffee as fiercely as I am abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy.
“But”, I hear you saying, “one coffee per day is considered safe during pregnancy & breast feeding… google it”. Soz, but I disagree.
We know how coffee works don’t we? Well it’s actually super technical and sciencey (and if you want a quick but thorough overview this TED Ed clip sums it up). The keyword of course is Caffeine.
Caffeine is an addictive central nervous system stimulant. Let me repeat that again, it’s an ADDICTIVE STIMULANT. In fact, it’s classed as a psychoactive drug; that being a ‘drug’ in the same class as alcohol, which is known to alter the body and mind. Doesn’t sound great when I put it like that, does it? So, why do the health authorities tell us it’s “safe” during pregnancy & breast feeding?? Well, because there’s no significant or distinctly conclusive evidence in human studies showing correlation to birth defects, miscarriage, behavioural and long term side affects.
If a coffee has the ability to pep up a fully grown adult, can we stop for a moment to consider what affect coffee is having on a developing fetus or breastfed newborn. Do your research about whether it’s safe to have coffee during pregnancy and you’ll find studies saying (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘it’s safe, just stick to no more than one-two cups a day’, ‘we found concerning evidence in animal studies but in the absence of human studies lets stick with outdated assumptions that one cup a day is totally fiiiiiine”.
Despite these ‘conclusions’ we know that, just like alcohol, caffeine crosses the placenta into the fetal bloodstreams. Studies also tell us that babies metabolisms are still developing and they can’t efficiently process caffeine (no shit!?). We also know a hell of a lot about the affect of caffeine on a human adult, so let’s recap:
Caffeine messes with your good chems and fight-flight responses
Caffeine has been seen to more than double the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine while also inhibiting the calming neurotransmitter “GABA” (gamma-aminobutyric acid). There’s also evidence that when consumed regularly caffeine can eventually lead to Serotonin depletion (the neurotransmitter associated with happiness). It’s not surprising then that caffeine is critically linked to Anxiety… did you know Caffeine so reliably induces panic attacks that it has been used specifically for that purpose in medical studies?
Caffeine messes with essential rest
Additionally, it’s during sleep that your brain washes away toxins and metabolic debris, repairs itself, and creates new brain cells. If you’re not getting deep rest to allow your body to renew and repair then are you providing the best environment for baby to grow, since it is a direct product of your cell quality.
Caffeine messes with important nutrients
Caffeine also causes nutrients to be excreted from your body. One of the nutrients that gets depleted is magnesium, a mineral that has profound effects on your mental well-being. Caffeine also robs you of the B complex vitamins, the “anti-stress vitamins.”
Caffeine messes with your blood flow
Caffeine restricts blood flow to the brain by as much as 27%. Blood flow is the delivery system for getting nutrients of all kinds to your brain including oxygen, water, glucose, vitamins, and minerals. If you are pregnant it can also take longer to process caffeine than usual.
Pesticides are bad news
One final reason coffee should be consumed with caution is because lots of coffee crops (among other highly processed and non-organic foods) are sprayed with pesticides which are widely considered to be carcinogens and linked to a number of serious health problems (studies have shown that a whole host of chemicals can be found in the umbilical cord of newborns, which I’m sure we can agree is an unideal scary start to life).
So, we know that coffee can have ill affect on mother, and we know that the behavioural effects of too much caffeine in children include anxiety, irritability, restlessness and links to adolescent depression. So why TF are we not more concerned about the affects on a developing foetus and growing baby!?
It took me hours but I found an article citing a very large review of coffee/caffeine research, presented by French researcher, Dr. Astrid Nehlig, in the 1994 journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology. His review summarised over 200 medical journal articles on the coffee/caffeine subject. Two key quotes stood out to me… “It has been shown that absorption of caffeine has a vasoconstrictive effect on placental circulation. Blood flow is not modified in the umbilical fetal vein but intervillious placental blood flow is significantly diminished after absorption of 2 cups of coffee. This decrease in blood flow along with increased concentration of noradrenaline induced by caffeine in the maternal serum could represent a potential risk for the fetus.” And “…Thus, it seems that early caffeine exposure, even at quite low doses, is able to induce a wide variety of neurochemical changes. These deficits concern both constitutive material such as proteins, DNA and RNA, and functional material such as neurotransmitters and ions.”
Alarming? Yep. There are so many things that we blindly consider ‘safe’, has anyone stopped to read their toothbrush tube lately? You’ll find that on most, if not all, of the commercially sold toothpastes a warning that reads “do not swallow”… for gods sake why on earth are we putting it in our mouths if it’s not safe to swallow!? (fyi this is the reason I switched to natural toothpaste about 8 months ago!).
We need to start questioning, looking at our ‘default’ behaviour, and making more conscious decisions. Not just for our babies, but for the kids out in the world, and OURSELVES.
Anxiety is a fucking big issue right now. A new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report has revealed anxiety as the leading illness facing women aged 5 to 44… aged FIVE to 44 (I’ll make time to discuss this more in another blog post soon).
Our coffee culture is out of control, and more and more I’m seeing the overlap with #mumlife and it’s a worrying mix. I see it everywhere I look, it’s all over my socials; mumma’s relying on coffee to get through the day, and sharing in each other’s sleepless despair. I get it, the need for shared experience is human nature – it’s what we all seek after all, however I’m seeing a bad cycle emerging… “coffee culture” is putting us in a downward spiral. I fear that it’s legit affecting our next generation, and is absolutely adding fuel to very worrying rates of anxiety and depression.
I see kiddos at the café sipping babycinos and sitting proudly with their milk moustaches being very ‘adulty’ (which I appreciate is completely adorbs by the way!) but kids are sponges and when they see mum & dad “needing” a coffee to start the day or relying on it for the afternoon crash, it becomes a learnt behaviour and a habit that our kids do not need to take up given the multitude of other stimulants they have impacting their nervous systems all day every day.
At this point I want to stress again that I’m not sitting on a high horse. I love sitting at the cafe, and I’m sure you’ll see my kids with milk mustaches one day too, there’s a good chance I’ll even rejoice in a sneaky coffee after I’m done breastfeeding. And, I realise caffeine is in many products, including black tea, and I would certainly be consuming it one way or another. My point of this blog post is to shine a spotlight on an issue that I think is a biggy.
It’s a biggy not just in terms of the potential long term affects of coffee culture on our unborn children and therefore the whole future of the next generation, but also for the mental health of mums, and dads, and everyone who’s caught up in the addiction and the warm fuzzies of social acceptance.
Cigarettes were considered cool once too, I wonder if we’ll look back one day at coffee and wonder how we managed to get suckered into mindlessly consuming something so harmful?
Ultimately, we need to put google down and come back to common sense and intuition. We know for fact what caffeine does to an adult human being, and we know for fact the detrimental affect it has on children in their developmental years, surely common sense at some point has to prevail in telling us that exposure to caffeine in babies, and foetuses in the womb, cannot and should not be considered safe.
At the end of the day, I’m trying to create the best possible safe and calm environment for my baby to develop, to give it (and me) the best opportunity to experience ease in the world. For me personally, given what I now know, coffee simply is not welcome in my baby making temple.
As always, let me know your thoughts on this topic and/or your feelings about coffee during pregnancy in the comments below?