• Amy Cuthbertson

Trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding? Avoid alcohol & caffeine!

The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that during the preconception period, the safest option is for women not to drink alcohol at all, to minimise risks to the baby. Drinking increases the time it takes to get pregnant and reduces the chances of having a healthy baby. Women who drink large quantities of alcohol are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods and fertility problems. Alcohol can affect ovulation, which can make it more difficult to conceive. Excessive alcohol consumption can also affect the quality of male sperm, reduce a man’s sex drive and cause impotence.

During pregnancy, the risk of harm to the baby is highest when women drink high levels of alcohol, frequently. It is not clear how drinking small amounts of alcohol affects unborn babies but drinking high amounts can be harmful. Binge drinking can cause stillbirth, premature birth, miscarriage, small birth weight, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be lower if a woman only consumed small quantities of alcohol before she knew she was pregnant or during pregnancy.

When breastfeeding, anything the mother consumes can find its way into the breast milk, and that includes alcohol. Therefore, not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers and consuming more than one drink per day is not recommended. Moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the child, especially if the mother waits at a minimum of 2 to 3 hours after a single drink before breastfeeding. Consumption of alcohol above moderate levels can impair the mother’s judgement and ability to safely care for the child. It can also interfere with the milk ejection reflex and subsequent infant exposure via breast milk could be damaging to its sleep patterns, growth and development. It is important a mother does not share a bed or sofa with her baby if she has drunk any alcohol as this has a strong association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Caffeine is found naturally in foods and drinks such as chocolate, tea and coffee. It can also be found as an additive for example in energy drinks and cold remedies. There is no clear evidence linking caffeine consumption with fertility problems in men or women although some studies have linked consuming too much caffeine to lowered fertility. As long as you are not consuming high amounts, it is unlikely to harm your chances of getting pregnant. However, it is worth considering limiting your overall intake as part of healthy lifestyle efforts to boost natural fertility.

According to a NIH study published in 2016, miscarriage is more likely if both partners drink more than two caffeinated beverages a day during the weeks leading up to conception. Similarly, women who drank more than two daily caffeinated drinks during the first seven weeks of pregnancy were also more likely to miscarry. Research published recently in the British Medical Journal suggests maternal caffeine consumption is reliably associated with major negative pregnancy outcomes. There is no safe amount of caffeine consumption during pregnancy and therefore we recommend to avoid it completely.

Approximately 1% of the total amount of caffeine a mother consumes passes through to their breast milk but even the small amounts that do pass through can build up in the baby’s body over time. Excess intake may lead to infant sleeping issues and the mother may experience heightened anxiety, restlessness, dizziness, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. decaffeinated coffee can contain up to 7mg of caffeine (compared to 70-140mg of caffeine in a regular cup of joe). Much like during pregnancy, we recommend that caffeine consumption is avoided altogether when breastfeeding.

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