Coffee and Other Pregnancy Scares

Pregnant women shouldn't panic over scary studies, but they should have a sensible game plan.

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Pregnant woman using laptop

Right on the heels of Halloween, it seems like it's "scare pregnant women" week. A British Medical Journal study out today warns that pregnant women who indulge in one or more daily cups of caffeinated coffee—or the caffeine equivalent in chocolate, tea, and soft drinks—are more likely to have low birth weight babies, who often have respiratory problems and learning disabilities.

I was shocked to see that the British government decided, on the basis of this one study, to lower the recommended daily limit of caffeine consumption from 300 mg to 200 mg. (Granted, other studies, like this recent one, suggest that drinking a cup or two of coffee a day increases the risk of miscarriage.) While there is no such recommended limit in the United States, even for pregnant women, many doctors tell expecting moms to reduce their caffeine consumption.

As if that weren't enough, another new study finds that gaining more than 40 pounds during pregnancy doubles the likelihood of giving birth to a whopping 9-pound baby. Larger babies often struggle with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease later in life. Of course, pregnant women who get stressed from reading all these scare studies may put themselves at higher risk of giving birth to a baby with allergies and asthma.

I'm not going to tell expecting moms to ignore these studies and head to the nearest Starbucks for a triple latte and double-fudge brownie. But I do think they need to take a common-sense approach when it comes to doing right by their future child. First of all, realize that all of this scary research isn't based on controlled experiments—what pregnant woman would volunteer to gain too much weight? Rather, researchers passively observe pregnant women who may, say, not only drink too much coffee but also work too many hours and get inadequate sleep. Both of these things weren't accounted for in the study, and the researchers conceded that women who avoid caffeine may be more "health conscious" than those who don't.

A lot of variables go into making a pregnancy healthy. So while putting aside the panic, make an effort to devise a lifestyle approach you can live with for nine months. Here's what experts recommend.