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By TODAY contributor
TODAY
updated 7/24/2007 11:13:50 AM ET 2007-07-24T15:13:50

Q: I generally drink three to four cups of coffee a day, but now I’m pregnant. Do I need to give up my cup of joe?

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A: We’ve been taught to sacrifice much to have children, but the latest study shows that we don’t need to give up our caffeine habit (unless we imbibe huge amounts). In medical school I was taught that you wouldn’t put caffeine in a baby bottle, so why would you put it in a placenta? As with everything in medicine, though, we can’t assume our dictums. We need to look at the evidence.

A study in the British Medical Journal, in addition to other studies before it, shows evidence that caffeine in moderation (three cups a day) doesn’t seem to have adverse effects on the baby. This recent study was a randomized, double-blinded one that included more than 1,200 Danish women who drank three (or even more) cups of coffee a day while pregnant. There were two groups of women: One drank caffeinated coffee and the other drank decaf or no coffee. These women were followed through their pregnancy and it was found that only 4.5 percent of infants born to the caffeinated group and 4.7 percent of the infants born to the decaffeinated group were small for their gestational age. In terms of babies being born preterm, 4.2 percent of the infants were born early among women drinking caffeine compared to 5.2 percent among the women drinking decaf. These numbers are pretty much what you’d expect for any group of pregnant woman, with or without caffeine.

The study did find, not surprisingly, that the women who smoked 10 or more cigarettes a day at the onset of their pregnancy delivered smaller children, especially if they drank caffeinated coffee. Don’t get me started on smoking and pregnancy. The 4,000 plus chemicals found in cigarettes can increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, bleeding, abnormal position of the placenta and fetal malformations.

The average caffeine consumption for women in the U.S. is 280 mg a day, which is roughly 2½ six-ounce cups of brewed coffee. Even one cup of coffee a day is addictive, and trying to stop or lower any intake can result in headaches. In fact, it turns out that one of the major reasons that women get pregnancy-related headaches is because they are avoiding caffeine. Here’s evidence that you don’t have to.

Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: If you’re pregnant, you don’t have to go on a course of caffeine abstinence. A cup (or three) of coffee a day might keep your headache away, and won’t harm your baby.

Dr. Judith Reichman, the TODAY show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, “Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You,” which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.

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