Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine, Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

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One morning, I was grabbing a coffee at a coffee shop just around the corner from my workplace. I go there sometimes, when I leave my house and arrive early to work. I would spend the extra 15 minutes to drink my coffee and study a bit of my nursing material. At the time, I was preparing for my NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination).

Everyone could see that I was visibly pregnant. Of course, at 32 weeks, I was definitely showing, and you can also tell by all the stares that came my way when I stepped foot into the shop.

No, I didn’t order decaffeinated coffee. I ordered a regular one. And I just have one cup per day, but not every day.

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When the barista took my order, he was hesitant. He looked at my swelling belly, then at my face, and then at his coworker. I was waiting for him to say something, and he did. He simply said,

oh, you know we also have decaffeinated coffee and espresso too.”

I was empathetic and tried to understand that this man’s concern came from a good place. So I kindly declined his offer and asked for a regular coffee. Then I proceeded to say that one cup a day is fine.

And although it looked like he didn’t believe me, he went ahead and poured me a cup of caffeinated coffee anyway.

I will say that this did bother me. I’m sure he thought very little of me to be drinking caffeine while carrying a child. But seriously? Did he think I was drinking alcohol everyday too?

I respect his concern but he didn’t respect the fact, that I did my research and that if he wanted to correct me about something, maybe he should have done his research too.

Obviously, I am not the first pregnant woman to experience this. In fact, my experience was pretty mild compared to others.

Have you heard about the one where a grandmother literally snatched and threw away a pregnant woman’s cold brew coffee?! Mamma-mia…

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Is it safe to drink caffeinated coffee during pregnancy?

After the first trimester, it is safe to drink ONE CUP of caffeinated coffee per day and by one cup, I mean 200 mg of caffeine or a 10-12 ounce cup depending on where you go.

I know, research can make this all very confusing. New studies continue to combat each other. Some say it’s not okay to have a cup a day, and then other studies refute these results and claim that these conventional pregnancy theories are a thing of the past.

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But one fact is true – there is some sort of link between caffeine and miscarriages, stillbirths, and low weight births, especially when consumed in the first trimester.

The problem with this fact is that we cannot apply a quantity of how much caffeine to these risks or determine the true cause and effect relationship between the two.

However, studies do show that consumption of caffeine over the recommended 200 mg per day results in double the risk of miscarriages and low birth weights.

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How does caffeine affect the human body?

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. In the brain, caffeine causes alertness which is why many of us consume caffeine.

Basically, the stimulant blocks adenosine from connecting to adenosine receptors in the brain. (Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that causes relaxation and sleepiness.) The chemical structure of caffeine is very similar to the structure of adenosine. Caffeine therefore, binds to the adenosine receptors and blocks adenosine from binding to it. This blocks feelings of sleepiness formerly brought on by adenosine, and the release of other natural stimulants such as dopamine. (Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter released by nerve cells and contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.)

We use caffeine to:

  • manage drowsiness
  • manage headaches
  • increase metabolism
  • enhance exercise performance
  • boost your mood
  • increase concentration
  • increases motivation to work

The peak effect of this stimulant occurs after approximately 30 minutes after consumption.

Consuming too much caffeine can cause:

  • insomnia
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • upset stomach
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • muscle tremors

It is also a diuretic, meaning it increases urination. This causes the body to release more fluids through urine possibly resulting in dehydration.

How is caffeine addictive?

Caffeine can be physically addictive and behaviourally addictive, especially in those who consume caffeine on a regular and sustained basis.

Physical addiction to caffeine occurs when the body produces more adenosine receptors to make up for the ones that are blocked by caffeine. This means that there are now more receptors that caffeine can bind to, requiring you to drink more coffee to “fill” those additional receptors. This also explains how coffee drinkers build up a tolerance and require more coffee over time.

Behavioural addiction occurs through the repetition of drinking the coffee in a social environment and the positive feelings involved in that environment, rather than the caffeine itself.

Withdrawal from caffeine can cause:

  • headaches
  • lack of concentration
  • drowsiness
  • irritability

How does caffeine affect the growing fetus?

Caffeine can directly and easily pass through the placenta to the fetus. Adults can metabolize caffeine but the fetus cannot, especially in the early phases of development.

As mentioned above, caffeine binds to our receptors altering the chemistry of our brains and effecting our cells, membranes and tissue. This change in chemistry may interfere with proper development of the fetus.

Another theory proposes that the vaso-constricting (constriction of blood vessels) properties of caffeine may cause increased blood pressure in the mother, leading to decreased blood flow to the fetus. The lack of blood flow to the placenta deprives the fetus of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow.

Caffeine not only increases blood pressure but also blood glucose levels as well. And it increases the workload of the liver that is already dealing with the increased hormonal demands of pregnancy.

Is it safe to consume caffeine while breastfeeding?

It is safe to drink caffeinated coffee while breastfeeding. Keep in mind that caffeine does pass through to your baby through breast milk, but only in trace amounts (approximately 1% of what you take in).

When breastfeeding, it is recommended that you should consume no more than 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day or no more than 300 mg daily.

If you drink about 3-5 cups of coffee, make sure to spread the consumption throughout the day to prevent high concentrations of caffeine in your breast milk.

If you find that your baby is becoming more restless and cranky after you’ve have coffee and breastfed, it may be time to reassess your intake amount.

How do you cut back on caffeine?

For chronic coffee drinkers who are or will be pregnant, it is important to wean yourself off of caffeine rather than stop cold turkey.

Start by mixing half caffeinated coffee with half decaffeinated coffee at first. Then eventually work towards drinking decaffeinated coffee entirely.

What other foods and drinks contain caffeine?

Besides coffee, caffeine can also be found in the following and should be consumed in moderation:

  • espresso beans
  • tea leaves
  • sodas
  • chocolate (cocoa beans)
  • energy drinks
  • some over the counter medication

As I’ve always mentioned, it is very important that you talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

We all know that mothers and mothers-to-be must make a lot of sacrifices for their growing babies but luckily, a cup of Joe doesn’t have to be one of them!

Thanks for reading.

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Hemorrhoids – There, I said it!

I never thought I would ever experience hemorrhoids in my life, not even during pregnancy. I mean, I’m young, active, and fairly healthy.  I knew that it was a common occurrence for mothers postpartum but I still thought, “Nope, not me.”

But I’ve since flushed all those naïve thoughts down the toilet… (hah)

You see, I remember my first time pooping after I had given birth. I was bleeding from my butt hole. And if you couldn’t tell, I was mortified.

After many panic-stricken thoughts on the toilet, I flashed back to my pregnant self laying on the hospital bed, pushing so god damn hard that I defecated all over myself while my dear husband watched (front row seats I should mention), and then I knew right then and there, yup, hemorrhoids. Oh yea, definitely.

So there you go. If you didn’t think it could happen to you, well think again momma!

I had to deal with hemorrhoids after birth, along with other postpartum troubles – PUPPP, breast feeding, sleep deprivation, anxiety… You know, the usual.

Read my post about “PUPPP: It Began With Stretch Marks…”

For those who don’t know, hemorrhoids are where the veins around the rectum swell with blood and fluids. This is due to increased pressure in that area such as when you are constipated or in this case, pushing out a tiny human from your vajayjay (aka vaginal delivery)! This increased pressure pushes against the vein walls in the rectum causing it to weaken. Over time blood will collect in pockets where the vein walls are weak and voila – the birth of a hemorrhoid. The weak vein walls can also burst and bleed! It can develop inside the rectum and/or outside around the anus. And fun (not so fun) fact, you can have multiple hemorrhoids inside and outside of your butt hole all at the same time!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with my hemorrhoids for too long. They lasted for about 2 months postpartum which is more than I can say for the other moms out there (my thoughts and prayers are with you). Hemorrhoids can develop anytime during pregnancy, pre- and postpartum! During pregnancy your uterus expands for your growing baby. This applies pressure on the veins in your rectum causing them to weaken and swell. They should go away once you’ve given birth. For those who have hemorrhoids after birth, they can last for a couple of days. If they last longer and you can’t find relief, please speak to your doctor!

Oh, and did I mention they were painful?

There were times where I was literally afraid to use the washroom. I would use any excuse to avoid sitting on the toilet but oh, was I so wrong! You see, the longer you wait, the worse it gets. It was like I was literally passing razor blades through my anus! Oh, how lovely motherhood is!

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But it’s the truth and it’s all too common. So let’s talk about it. Let’s raise awareness about the glorious hemorrhoids of pregnancy and let’s remind each other that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

There were many home remedies along with a topical drug prescription that I used to relieve the pain of hemorrhoids. But my one and only saving grace was WATER. I can’t stress enough how important water is, especially postpartum when your body is out of whack and trying to heal. Water is absolutely essential. Not only is it good for hemorrhoids, but it helps with your milk supply, to reduce the swelling in your feet (edema) and so much more.

In my case, increasing my water intake helped soften my stool so it was waaaay easier to pass and I didn’t have to strain as much. Especially for those suffering from constipation after birth, drink lots of water.

When you’re sitting on the toilet and biting down on a towel, you’ll remember this and thank me.

In combination with increased water intake, here are some other very helpful tips to relieve your poor, poor butt hole:

Our family loves Bragg’s organic, raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

Apple Cider Vinegar

I know what you’re thinking because I thought the exact same thing! You would think that applying an acid to your already burning anus would make it worse, right? Well apple cider vinegar has antibacterial and antiinflammatory properties and many have suggested that it provides immediate pain relief! It’s true, it really works! Apply the apple cider vinegar with a cotton ball or dilute it in your warm (not hot) bath water or your sitz bath. Doctors do warn that excessive use can lead to further irritation and burning so make sure to apply it sparingly and only as needed.

Sitz bath

Soak your bottom in a sitz bath for about 15 minutes! Usually, upon discharge from the hospital, you should have received a sitz bath tub that you can use to soak your bottom in. If not, they are available at your local pharmacy or online.

If you don’t have a sitz bath tub, no worries. A bath tub works just as well. I like to mix in lots of epsom salt into my warm bath water. Epsom salts dissolve into magnesium and sulfate in water which will be absorbed into the skin to soothe the area. You can also use baking soda, or even dilute some apple cider vinegar as well!

Hemorrhoid Ointment

Your doctor may prescribe some hemorrhoid cream which you can apply with an applicator directly in your rectum and around your anus. This cream is a corticosteroid which reduces inflammation such as redness, itching and swelling. The ointment that I was prescribed is called Anodan-HC. It contains 0.5% hydrocortisone acetate (which is the corticosteroid that reduces inflammation) and 0.5% zinc sulfate (which forms a barrier and protects skin from moisture).

Relieving pressure off of your bottom

Sit on a pillow or cushion, rocking chair or recliner that shifts your weight off of your bottom to another part of your body. This decreases pressure off of your bottom.

When duty calls, don’t avoid it!

I’m so guilty for this! I was literally scared sh*tless (hah) to poop because of the pain so I postponed it for as long as I could. Worst decision ever! If you need to go, go right away. Don’t wait! Delaying it will cause your feces to harden which makes it so much more painful to pass. This is because your body is reabsorbing the water from your stool when it sits in your rectum. Trust me, I know it hurts, but it will hurt so much more if you avoid it. Get it over and done with. You will feel so much better.

I hope this post provides help and support to those going through the same troubles I did when I had hemorrhoids!

You’re not alone and remember, it will pass!

Please feel free to share your stories, struggles, or advice in the comments below. We love hearing from our readers! Thanks for reading everyone!

The Truth About Eating Raw Fish During Pregnancy

When I was pregnant, all of my friends and family warned me to avoid eating sushi because sushi was one of my favourite foods! Though devastated, I knew I had to make those sacrifices when I got pregnant – raw fish being one of them. And for the sake of my unborn child, I never bothered to question it.

Literally 2 minutes after I had delivered my baby girl, I joked to my doctor and said, “God, I can’t wait to eat sushi again!” My doctor looked at me and said, “…who said you couldn’t before?” I looked back at her puzzled and realized, I never actually asked my doctor if I had to avoid raw fish during pregnancy! I just assumed that it was the obvious thing to do! 

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

So if you didn’t know, now you know. To all my sushi loving friends, it’s generally safe to eat sushi and raw fish when you’re pregnant and when you’re breastfeeding! Hooray!

The FDA does state that pregnant women and young children should stay away from raw fish as they have weaker immune systems and are at more risk for food borne illnesses but raw fish served in sushi and sashimi is not included in this recommendation!

In fact, the FDA states that eating a variety of fish when pregnant or breast feeding can provide health benefits for mom and baby! (Keyword: variety! Don’t just eat the same type of fish every time you do!)

Eating fish provides:

  • Protein
  • Omega 3 fats (aka DHA and EPA)
  • Very high in Vitamin B12 and vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Minerals such as selenium, zinc, iodine

And these nutrients contribute to healthy growth and development of your baby. They even provide heart health benefits and lowers the risk of obesity.

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2 Things to look out for when eating raw fish

1. Parasitic worms

It’s the parasitic worms found in raw fish that actually make you sick. Ingesting and getting infected with the worms (aka anisakis) results in a painful condition called anisakidosis. These worms invade and penetrate your stomach lining. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Allergic reaction
  • Death in very rare cases!

Other parasitic worms present in fish is tapeworm. Fishes potentially infected with tapeworm include:

  • Pike
  • Perch
  • Anadromous fish (fish that migrate up rivers from the sea to spawn such as salmon)

Learn more about parasites from the Seafood Health Facts website!

2. High levels of mercury

Ingesting high levels of mercury can lead to birth defects specifically affecting the brain and nervous system. Mercury is present in streams, lakes and oceans and are either naturally occurring or man made. Mercury turns into methylmercury which is found in nearly all fish but in different amounts. It is this type of mercury that is harmful to us in high amounts.

These fish have the highest mercury level and should be avoided:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna, big eye 

There is no way to prepare or cook fish to lower its mercury level because the mercury is in the tissue of the fish. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid eating fish entirely during pregnancy due to its considerable health benefits. Just consume fish that are low in mercury and avoid fish with high levels.

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Fishes low in mercury that you should eat:

  • Anchovy
  • Atlantic croacker
  • Atlantic, and pacific chub mackerel
  • Black sea bass
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Herring
  • Pickerel
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Sole
  • Tilapia
  • Freshwater trout
  • Canned light tuna
  • White fish
  • Whiting

… and many more! Learn more about which fish is best to eat here on the FDA website.

Remember, a variety of fish in your diet is key!

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Farmed Fish and Freezing Methods

Some farmed fish used in sushi such as salmon or tuna are very unlikely to be infected with the parasitic worms because of the methods used to farm these fish for mass human consumption.

Also, freezing raw fish kills any worms present which makes it safe to eat. When preparing sushi in your own home, make sure to freeze the raw fish for at least 4-7 days.

Learn more about farmed fish practices here!

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What about shellfish?

Shellfish is totally okay to eat when it is cooked. Raw shellfish contains harmful viruses and bacteria that can cause food poisoning so if you’re pregnant, you should probably avoid that scallop ceviche dish!

Shellfish include:

  • Shrimps
  • Prawns
  • Crawfish
  • Crabs
  • Scallops
  • lobster

Keep these tips in mind when you’re at the sushi restaurant and about to enjoy some delicious sushi rolls with you baby bump! But beware of the concerning stares – they don’t know any better…

Thanks for reading everyone!

Becoming a mom: The gist of it anyway…

I knew I always wanted to be a mother since I was young. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up baby sitting my siblings and baby cousins, or maybe it’s just in our DNA – our womanly nature to want to procreate and care for something so small, delicate and defenseless. It’s definitely a combination of nature and nurture for sure.

Since I was in high school even! – I wanted to have a big family because I came from a big family myself. I have three other siblings, my grandparents lived with us during the majority of my childhood and our cousins and extended family members would spend lots of time at our home. I just grew up with lots of loved ones all around me and I knew that I wanted my children to grow up in the same environment.

An image of myself as a new mother, our baby girl, Ayanna and her loving daddy. One of my favourite family photos.

Today, I am a mother of one 5 month old girl and trying to be someone special to my partner’s 11 year old son. I am very thankful.

My wonderful partner is a notable Chef, with more than 20 years of experience in the culinary world. I was just your regular food server when we met about two years ago. We instantly felt a connection back then and today, we have a baby together.

When we found out we were pregnant with Ayanna, we were ecstatic! At that time in our lives we were definitely not ready for a baby but deep down, we had so much love for each other that we were secretly trying to conceive anyway! It was stressful and exciting at the same time.

During my pregnancy, my family lived quite far from us, so when Ayanna finally came into this world, I had to figure out how to be a mom on my own. I was fortunate that my other half had taken a few weeks off to stay home with me. He really is a good man – I’m very lucky.

To those of you who are or will be first time moms, were you ready for what’s to come? To be responsible for a life? I thought I was, but when the time finally came, I realized how much I didn’t know.

The struggle is real! From the traumas of birth to coming home with your newborn, it’s all so exhausting yet exciting! Though I was fortunate enough to have minor consequences from the actual birth, the reality of caring for my newborn was another story… I had the worst time with breastfeeding and latching. My little one just wouldn’t latch, and when she did, it was so painful! She would scream and scream and scream and there were many, many sleepless, inconsolable, and desperate nights…

People have told me many things like what to do, what not to do, this and that…. and yet there were so many other things that they didn’t tell me. So I decided to write a blog for first time moms (all moms really), who have, and are struggling with pregnancy and postpartum, and for those who lived far from their families and support systems and had to learn how to be a mom on their own.

I hope this blog will provide strength, reassurance, and guidance to those who feel lost, hopelessness and despair. I want to remind all first time mothers that yes, immediately postpartum, it can feel like the toughest moments of your entire life, but it doesn’t have to be. Even in those darkest moments, motherhood is a still a beautiful thing.

I want to remind mothers that everything is going to be okay, and that there will always be someone to help – and that you are doing a great job, and you are a great mom.

Thanks for reading. xoxo