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6 Top Questions About Coffee, Pregnancy and Gestational Diabetes

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When you find out you're pregnant, there are a few items you must give up or cut back on for your and your baby's health. If you are used to the caffeine boost you get from a few cups of coffee daily, reducing how much you are drinking can be difficult.

Why is it important to keep your caffeine intake to a certain amount? And can caffeine have effects on conditions like gestational diabetes

Why does caffeine intake need to be reduced during pregnancy?

If you are a habitual coffee drinker and become pregnant, you may wonder why it is important to reduce your coffee intake. Coffee has caffeine, and research has shown that caffeine is absorbed quickly and can pass through the placenta. It is believed to cause blood vessels in the uterus and placenta to constrict, which could reduce the blood supply to the fetus, inhibit growth and lead to lower birth weights for babies. Similarly, researchers believe caffeine could disrupt fetal stress hormones, putting infants at risk for rapid weight gain after birth and for later life obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

How much caffeine am I allowed during pregnancy?

Caffeine intake should be limited to 200 milligrams per day. One 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine. Try to drink no more than two cups of coffee a day.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy in patients who don't already have diabetes. It happens when pregnant patients develop high blood sugar levels. The underlying cause of gestational diabetes is insulin resistance. Insulin in the body plays a crucial role in processing glucose (sugar). Large amounts of pregnancy hormones can cause the body's cells to become resistant to insulin. Around 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes, and managing gestational diabetes well will ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Anyone can develop gestational diabetes, but you can be at an increased risk if you:

  • Are overweight, obese or not physically active
  • Are older than 25
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Have high blood pressure or heart disease
  • Have had gestational diabetes with another baby
  • Are pregnant with multiple babies
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Gain excessive weight during pregnancy

What’s the deal with coffee and gestational diabetes?

While more research needs to be done, some studies have shown that low to moderate caffeine consumption may lower the risk of gestational diabetes. In a study of 2,802 pregnant women, low and moderate caffeinated beverage intake early in the second trimester and within current guidelines of less than 200 mg per day were associated with a lower risk for gestational diabetes, lower glucose levels at gestational diabetes screening and more favorable cardiometabolic profile compared with no consumption.

The study found that low-to-moderate caffeine intake (all under 200 milligrams per day) is not associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or hypertension for expecting patients. In fact, during the second trimester, drinking up to 100 mg of caffeine daily was associated with a 47% reduction in diabetes risk.

The research team did note that it is not recommended for women who are non-drinkers to begin drinking caffeinated drinks just to lower their gestational diabetes risk. If you already have gestational diabetes, you can drink coffee, and it is recommended to follow the same recommendations as other pregnant women: no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day.

How do high levels of caffeine affect gestational diabetes?

While it is safe to drink under 200 milligrams of coffee per day if you have gestational diabetes, some studies have shown that high levels of caffeine can affect sugar levels. Consuming high amounts of caffeine can make it difficult for your glucose (sugar) to come down to healthy levels, so it is possible to increase the risk of gestational diabetes. Be sure to talk with your doctor to determine the best plan for you.

Additionally, high levels of coffee or caffeine can cause other issues, including:

  • Anxiety – Caffeine increases alertness by blocking adenosine, a brain chemical that makes you feel tired. This can trigger adrenaline release, which increases your energy. High doses of caffeine make this effect more pronounced, causing nervousness or anxiety.
  • High blood pressure levelsCaffeine can raise blood pressure, which can pose a risk for patients who may already experience elevated blood pressure levels.
  • Insomnia – Many pregnant women list insomnia as a common issue during the first trimester. Coffee or caffeine can increase your chances of experiencing insomnia.
  • Digestive issues – Coffee is a stimulant, and it can cause an increase in gastrin release. The stomach produces gastrin to increase digestive activity in the colon. If you consume too much caffeine, it can lead to loose stools or diarrhea.

Can caffeine consumption potentially lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

A few recent studies have shown that caffeine consumption by patients with a history of gestational diabetes may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes. The study examined whether greater ongoing coffee consumption was related to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes among females with a history of gestational diabetes. In the study, at least among predominantly Caucasian females with a history of gestational diabetes, greater consumption of caffeinated coffee was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

If you are pregnant, be sure to talk with your doctor to discuss your individualized health issues and needs.

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