In past decades there has been much confusion regarding the effect of coffee on various aspects of reproductive health. Questions span from fertility to breastfeeding and everything in between. Early research results have sometimes been contradictory and significant media coverage of some studies has lead to public confusion about whether coffee’s effect on mother and baby is negative, positive or neutral.
In recent years, there has been an effort by medical science to clarify the research and provide definitive and clear direction to women, from when they are anticipating a pregnancy through to breastfeeding a child.
Research findings in this area have lead to a general consensus that coffee is safe for all women at moderate levels. Specific international and Canadian guidelines have been developed regarding each stage of the reproductive cycle (link to section on recommended intake levels) which serves as a guide to women concerned about the health of their fetus or baby.
Significant research has been conducted on each aspect of the reproductive cycle, including the following:
- Fetal Health
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
As with other areas of women’s health, when thinking about fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding, women want to know whether it is safe to drink coffee. Research supports a moderate approach to coffee drinking at every stage of the reproductive cycle, as outlined below:
Various studies have examined whether coffee consumption has a negative effect on a women’s ability to conceive, generally concluding that it has no role in delaying conception. A massive1991 study of 11,000 women published in the Journal of Epidemiology looked at the association between number of months to conception and cigarette smoking and coffee consumption(ref), with findings that are representative. It concluded that there is no association between delayed conception and coffee consumption.
In fact, there are some indications that coffee may have a positive effect. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that women who drink more coffee have an increase in fertility.(ref)
The notion that coffee consumption can be harmful to a fetus, leading to possible miscarriage, low birth weight and other abnormality, is firmly entrenched in public understanding leading many women to cut coffee when pregnant. However, the body of early research supporting this is largely seen as inconclusive as many studies failed to isolate other factors, such as smoking, which was commonplace during pregnancy at the time.
Subsequent analysis of early studies and more recent research have failed to show that coffee consumption can lead to negative outcomes. According to a review of all previous research published in the journal Lancet in 1988, there is no correlation between coffee consumption and miscarriage, reduced birth weight and fetal abnormalities. (ref)
In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement regarding the transfer of substances, including coffee, into human milk. (ref) Following the Academy’s review of the research on this topic, coffee was placed in a category labelled “material medication usually compatible with breast feeding”. It concluded that adverse events from caffeine such as infant irritability and poor sleeping were reported but not at moderate levels of consumption of two to three cups per day.
More specifically, a 1983 study published in the journal Pediatric Pharmacology concluded that while caffeine has been found in breast milk concentrations are not great enough to have pharmacological effect.(ref)
A large scale study conducted in Scandinavia and published in Acta Paediatrica concluded that there is no connection between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and a mother’s coffee consumption before and during pregnancy or after birth. (ref)
Brief abstracts to be inserted here for research studies referenced above (connected by links).