(NaturalNews) A new study has found that women who drink as little as one cup of coffee per day while pregnant can significantly increase their child's risk of low birth weight, spurring the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) to lower the maximum recommended daily caffeine intake during pregnancy.
Caffeine has been shown to cross the placental barrier into the bloodstream of the fetus, but the exact health effects of the chemical remain largely unknown.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers from Leicester and Leeds Universities had 2,635 women who were between their eighth and 12th weeks of pregnancy fill out a questionnaire about their food intake, then tested their saliva for caffeine levels. They found that women who consumed between 100 and 199 milligrams of caffeine per day were 20 percent more likely to bear a child with low birth weight than women who consumed less than 100 milligrams daily. Women who consumed between 200 and 299 milligrams per day had a 40 percent higher risk, while women who drank 300 milligrams or more per day were 50 percent more likely to bear a low birth weight child.
Birth weight is a widely used marker of general newborn health. Children with lower birth weight are at significantly higher risk for a variety of health problems including diabetes and heart disease.
In response to the study, the FSA revised its recommendations for pregnant women to a maximum of 200 milligrams per day, down from the prior maximum of 300 milligrams. According to the FSA, the average cup of home-brewed coffee contains 100 milligrams of caffeine, while black tea contains half that. The agency noted, however, that caffeine content depends on the beverage brand and the strength of the brew, and that coffee or tea purchased out of the home can easily contain more caffeine.
FSA officials told pregnant women who had been following the prior guideline not to be alarmed, but merely to stick to the lower amount from now on.
"If you're pregnant and have been following the previous advice, the risk is likely to be small," chief scientist Andrew Wage said.
Sources for this story include: news.bbc.co.uk; afp.google.com.