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Pregnancy, Decaf Drinks & Herbal Teas

By Erica Jacques

During pregnancy, you are asked to make many dietary changes for the health of your unborn baby. One of the most difficult changes for many pregnant women is cutting out the caffeine, or at least cutting it down. While there are many caffeine-free alternatives available, not all of them are safe. You should be also aware that caffeine can be hidden in some unlikely beverages.

How Much Caffeine is Safe?

Caffeine can potentially harm your baby during pregnancy. Many have attempted to determine a safe amount of caffeine with varied results, but most experts agree that caffeine is OK in moderation. The problem is, the definition of moderation is up for debate. The studies reviewed by the National Toxicology Program found safe amounts to be anywhere between 150 mg and 300 mg. The March of Dimes suggests pregnant women stick to 200 mg or fewer daily. Why all the fuss? Caffeine crosses the placenta, meaning what you drink also goes to your baby. This has the potential to cause negative effects, such as miscarriage, low birth weight and stillbirth.

Is Decaf Really Decaffeinated?

Decaffeinated drinks are OK then, right? Yes, but only in moderation. Even decaffeinated coffees and teas contain caffeine. The National Toxicology Program estimates an 8 oz. cup of decaf coffee contains around 4 mg of caffeine. Doesn’t seem like much, right? Well, consider that a large drink at a coffee bar may be 20 or more ounces, which is almost three times as large. That still only equals about 12 mg of caffeine. But, if you have already hit your daily limit, that decaf drink could push you close to the red zone. Be sure to include decaffeinated beverages, no matter how insignificant they may seem, in your daily caffeine tally.

Herbal Tea Safety

Herbal teas that do not contain caffeine may offer an alternative for pregnant women trying to reduce their intake. While they may seem safe, the American Pregnancy Association warns that herbs are not regulated by the FDA, even those in tea form. Many national companies stick to “safe” herbs in their products. However, this does not mean that all of the potential herbal tea combinations are safe during pregnancy. In general, pregnancy teas are considered safe as long as they are manufactured: the American Pregnancy Association warns against using anyone’s homemade herbal teas or using teas made from herbs that you purchase loose. There is no measure of how potent these herbs are. Because many herbal teas are not well studied, it is hard to know exactly what effect they may have on a pregnant woman or her developing baby. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal teas when pregnant.

Unlikely Caffeine Sources

You may think you are avoiding caffeine by staying away from coffee and tea, but did you know there are many other sources of caffeinated beverages? Take chocolate milk: chocolate syrup and cocoa-containing drinks contain small amounts of caffeine. The National Toxicology Program estimates an average sized chocolate milk contains 4 mg to 6 mg of caffeine. And don’t forget about iced tea: an 8 oz. glass contains around 25 mg, per the National Toxicology Program. A large iced tea could bump you up to almost half of your daily recommended amount.

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