Healthy Pregnancy: Judgment Calls

There are a few schools of thought about avoiding caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners while prego. Some experts say that small amounts of these things are fine, others say pass; here’s my take.
coffee cup

There are a few schools of thought about avoiding caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners. Here is how I'm approaching it.

The Dangers

Caffeine: Along with that wake-you-up jolt, caffeine can increase your heart rate, make heartburn worse, cause jitters and mess with a good night’s sleep (and you need to rest now, while you still can). The biggest concern is too much caffeine may increase your risk of miscarriage. It’s not just in coffee  -- tea, soda, teas, ice cream, chocolate and even several over-the counter medicine have caffeine. The occasional chocolate is fine; it’s the caffeinated beverages, which pack the biggest punch, that you want to skip. I made the switch to an occasional decaf coffee. Despite their name, decaf beverages do contain small amounts of caffeine, so I only have a few small cups a week, max! Herbal teas are also a good choice -- they're completely caffeine-free (but green and black tea do have caffeine).

Alcohol: Drinking too much can harm baby’s development because it gets into their forming bloodstream. Some gals worry that they may have had a few drinks before they knew they were pregnant; the chances of this being harmful are pretty small. Your best bet is to slow down your alcohol consumption when you’re trying to get pregnant and to stop as soon as you find out you are.

Fake sugars: Artificial sweeteners are calorie-free sugar replacements that lurk in more foods than you might think (diet sodas, candies, flavored waters and some yogurts, to name a few). I view these “sweeteners” as chemicals, and the less of those I put them in my body the better. These substitutes are a sweet blessing to those who suffer from diabetes, but you can still limit your intake during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association does warn that some artificial sweeteners may be safer than others. Read more in my breakdown of the different kinds on the market.

The Bottom Line

I made the decision to cut these things out of my diet completely when I learned I was pregnant. Believe me, I miss that glass of wine with dinner or the occasional diet soda (a combo of caffeine and artificial sweeteners), but I can live without them for nine months (the first eight have already flown by). When I put the breaks on coffee, I was surprised by my caffeine withdrawal. I had a splitting headache for two weeks, and I had only been drinking about a cup a day!

Like with the alcohol, if you're trying to get pregnant, use that time to start weening off caffeine rather than going cold turkey. If I need some oomph, I keep these natural energy-boosting foods in mind and on my plate.

Of course, the smartest move is to discuss choices with your doctor or registered dietitian.

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