Parenting

Don't Shame Pregnant Women for Drinking Coffee

A new study misses the point.

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Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should completely avoid caffeine, according to a study published in The BMJ, a British medical journal.

Its findings, though, were quickly picked apart by skeptics who are sick of women being warned that almost everything they do—other than sip wheatgrass smoothies—is a risk to their kids.

"I don't think we need to worry about coffee," says Clare Murphy, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. "I think we need to worry about this relentless pursuit of pregnant women and regulating of pregnant women's choices."

Murphy is the top signatory of a letter signed by about 20 professors and public health advocates objecting to the paper, which is actually a meta-analysis of several earlier studies relating caffeine and pregnancy. The analysis was conducted by James E. Jack, a professor of psychology at Reykjavik University whose life's work seems to be excoriating caffeine. Consider his full-length book on the topic (his second): Understanding Caffeine, which concludes that "current scientific evidence indicates there is no safe level of regular use," according to its description on Amazon.com.

He's not a Starbucks kind of guy, in other words.

His BMJ piece looked at 48 studies out of 1261 on the subject. Of those 48, Jack reports, the majority found no safe level of caffeine for pregnant women. (Though about a fourth of them found caffeine had zero effect.) He blames caffeine for "tens of thousands of avoidable negative pregnancy outcomes per year in the USA alone."

That is quite a claim. But as Joan Wolf, a professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Texas A&M, points out, "You can cherry-pick 48 studies on a topic and get that study to tell you anything you want it to tell you. This was so clearly written by someone who has an axe to grind. It stunned me that this even got through."

Wolf has spent much of her professional career tilting against research that seems bent on telling moms they must be ever more vigilant and selfless, and is the author of the book, Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood.

The problem is that in a culture enamored of shame and blame, especially when it comes to moms, it is this kind of research that gets funding and attention.

"Often the media are blamed for sensationalist headlines," says Murphy.  "But if you trace it back, the scientists themselves are writing studies and conclusions that [they know] will get into the paper. And the whole issue of pregnant women's behavior is a very rich area for this kind of material."

It's also a very rich area for proposed regulation. Murphy says that her country's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently published guidelines "whereby they want a woman's entire alcohol history through the entire pregnancy—from a glass of beer they had before they knew they were pregnant—to be all documented and transferred onto a child's health record."

The clear implication is that anything a mom does can and will be held against her if a child exhibits problems.

For women, this kind of blame is horrible.

"I had miscarriage after miscarriage," says Nancy McDermott, author of the new book, The Problem with Parenting: How Raising Children is Changing Across America. Thanks to science, she says, "We found out what it was. It had nothing to do with caffeine. But when you're in that position, you're paranoid. I blamed myself because I carried the groceries home. I was sure that's why I had a miscarriage." Actually, she found out, it was because of a certain kind of blood clotting. (She is now the mother of two kids.)

But most women who miscarry will never learn why it happened, leaving ample opportunity for self-flagellation.

"The idea that you can control every aspect of your life or your children's life is part of a much broader dynamic that has all of us monitoring and surveilling ourselves all the time," says Wolf.

It may have a lot of others—doctors, health officials, baristas—monitoring and surveilling us, too.

NEXT: Last Night's Debate Was a Disaster. That's Exactly Why There Should Be More of Them.

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  1. Gotta bad feeling the anti Mormon guy is gonna show up.

    1. To complement the Mormons on their wisdom for not being coffee drinkers?

      1. for having large families and spreading out t to more states to help keep the country under Republican control?

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  2. So the same society that lets Planned Parenthood rip the child out of the wound, butcher it and sell it’s body parts for profit shames the mother for drinking coffee because it might harm the baby. We live in truly fucked up times.

    1. So the same society that lets Planned Parenthood rip the child out of the wound

      This is a comment about transgender surgery.

      1. Transgenders have come a long way. In the past they gestated in a box.

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    2. Yes, indeed. Here’s an idea. How about everyone mind their own business?
      This is right up there with people who think that if you leave a dog in a car for 10 minutes on a 60 degree day they can smash your windows and call the cops.

  3. Just throw a shot of whiskey in that latte… the alcohol counteracts the caffeine. Boom, you get the habitual comfort of sipping that morning cup of Joe without the horribly disfiguring and deadly side effects of the coffee bean stimulant.

    You’re welcome mothers.

    1. Jameson’s or Bushmills?

      1. Jack or Jim… ‘murica!

      2. Octomore 7.3 if they wanna be a real mom.

        1. Whiskey not whisky… but of course someone inevitably invokes the “no true Scotsmom fallacy.”

          1. “no true Scotsmom fallacy.”

            lol amazing.

  4. When you get called out for your poor research methods by a gender studies professor, you know you done fucked up.

    1. You say that as if the gender studies professor is correct…

      She may be, but siding with a gender studies professor (who probably can’t accurately interpret the stud) over a researcher (who can actually write a study) seems like an odd conclusion to jump to. At least in this article, there’s no reason to believe the gender studies professor knows any more about the subject than my dog.

  5. His BMJ piece looked at cherry-picked 48 studies out of 1261 on the subject.

    Let’s not beat around the bush here.

  6. Based on all the talk about a potential Justice Barrett, I am surprised that Reason doesn’t feel it necessary to run:

    “Don’t Shame Pregnant Women for Not Exercising Their Right to an Abortion”.

    1. Or “Women Should Get Pregnant Now and Have Babies Before Barrett Takes Away Their Reproductive Rights” — isn’t that what they say she’s going to do?

  7. All true Progressives need to better their neighbors with constructive criticism, and to enforce that new behavior publicly. Nothing better than shaming a vulnerable woman.

    1. Suburban, educated white women are the worst. As vicious as they are to everyone else, they are even worse to each other.

  8. My mom smoked and drank alcohol while she was pregnant with me… look how I turned out!

  9. The pregnant slack-jaws chewing snuff, downing handles of off-brand vodka, and swallowing handfuls of street pills in West Virginia, Mississippi, backwater Ohio, Oklahoma, and downscale Michigan welcome Lenore Skenazy’s support.

    1. Jar full of gall bladders of failed dictators. It is the only explanation for all the bile.

      Fun fact: Idi Amin was born with two gall bladders, only one of which made it into the jar.

      1. That’s “His Excellency President For Life Field Marshal Alhaji Doctor Idi Amin Dada VC DSO MC CBE” to you.

    2. Still stuck here, gecko? Your handlers must not think much of you.

    3. Yes, and because serious alcohol and drug abuse and chain smoking is bad for the unborn, we all have a moral obligation to harass pregnant women who take a sip of wine or drink coffee in the morning.

    4. and they’re having more babies that their better educated (and supposedly) “betters”, so enjoy your near victory in the culture wars, Rev, before you’re outnumbered again.

    5. There are non-backwater parts of Ohio? Oh happy days!

    6. You don’t chew snuff, ya ignorant wokitarian, you just put a peench tween yer cheek and gum and let it stew a while.

    7. Lucky we have a superior being like you here to put us all in our place.

  10. How should we characterize the person who asserted this…

    “This was so clearly written by someone who has an axe to grind. It stunned me that this even got through.”

    with this background?

    Wolf has spent much of her professional career tilting against research that seems bent on telling moms they must be ever more vigilant and selfless, and is the author of the book, Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood.

    Apparently having axes to grind is only disqualifying when Reason disagrees with them.

    But if you trace it back, the scientists themselves are writing studies and conclusions that [they know] will get into the paper. And the whole issue of pregnant women’s behavior is a very rich area for this kind of material.”

    I wonder if she believes more than 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted during 4 years on American campuses. I’ve never seen her speak out against this research. Maybe standards only exist for policies she opposes.

    1. if Reason disagrees with you and you still want to make your point, you have an axe to grind.

      if Reason agrees with you, you’re just enlightening the masses.

    2. Well, yeah. If someone has an axe to grind, but their arguments are valid, I’m not going to reject them.

  11. This all started with the anti-smoking movement wagging their fingers. They said their would never start haranguing anyone over junk food, soda, coffee, etc. If you believe their “science”, anyone born before the 1980s or 1990s should be a mutant freak because their moms drank coffee and alcohol, smoked, and ate what they wanted. Instead, the opposite seems to be true.

  12. don’t shame anyone for anything. jfc

    1. If there isn’t some shame involved, you aren’t doing it right.

  13. Metastudies aren’t worth the paper they are written on. For the uninformed, a metastudy is nothing more than a review of existing literature…In other words, the author didn’t do any new work…He just assembled the works of others.

    Academics tend to publish only work that shows there to be an effect, so it is possible that there are a zillion studies showing no health risk, but because they show no effect, they never got published. As a result, metastudies are strongly biased toward showing an effect.

    Metastudies are a great way for “researchers” to prove just about anything they want to prove!

  14. I guess we’re not supposed to believe SCIENCE!!! only when it involves the “relentless pursuit of pregnant women and regulating of pregnant women’s choices.”

    But in any other situation, you will be labeled a denier.

  15. 1. It is from Britain, therefore suspect as the product of socialised medicine.
    2. NOBODY messes with coffee in the USA!!! Talk about the fastest way to fill the streets with mostly desperate protesters.
    3. Given the fact that this propaganda originated in Britain, why does the headline say coffee instead of tea?

    1. Talk about the fastest way to fill the streets with mostly desperate protesters.

      Not bleery-eyed constipated protesters! How will we survive the countless protests that start in the mid-afternoon and are over by early evening? Legions of people aimlessly shambling about; too unfocused, unmotivated, and lethargic to engage in pointless looting… the horror!

    2. About pt.3, coffee is FAR more popular and, generally, has a much higher level of caffeine. You’d have to reduce your sample size by a factor of 100x if you wanted to focus on tea. And the varieties are more diverse whereas there is less delta between coffee strains in popular use.

      About pt2, YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT! 😉

  16. Another case of science catching up with common sense; pregnant women *should* be ashamed to drink Starbucks coffee.

  17. Anyone that thinks there’s ‘shaming’ going on needs to relax.

    It’s just information that you can chose to either accept or ignore. For example, I’ve read probably half a dozen books about caffeine and know more about it than the average mouse and the negative effects. Does that mean that I’m not pouring a coffee right. . . . NOW . . . . it does not.

    All this ‘shaming’ that’s being espoused is victim-hood garbage. “No. I have an opinion. You feel ashamed. It’s on you.”

    Deal with it.

    Kindly,
    Me

    1. Consider it dealt with.
      No one can shame you if you have no shame.

      1. That’s a big part of society’s problem right now…

    2. “Widespread caffeine use explains a lot about the twentieth century.” – Greg Egan

      Reality would be a pretty fucked up place if the majority of Americans had to get hopped up on speed in order to get through their day. I can certainly agree that caffeine predisposes people to an ‘act first, think later’ or ‘progressive’ mentality.

      All this ‘shaming’ that’s being espoused is victim-hood garbage.

      Victimocracy or pregnant women being hormonal and/or non-pregnant women being over-protective? Yes!

  18. I comearly agree with the idea that wemon need to be as careful as possible. When my wife was pregnant I made sure to clear the house of all coffee and booze. I did have to go to the bathroom alot though. *cue the song “Elvis was a narc”

  19. I distinctly recall when the entrenched medical cartel shrieked in the papers that LSD “has the power” to permanently cripple your mind. A whole generation proceeded to discover that the medical cartel, big pharma and the entrenched kleptocracy ALL lied through their teeth. Terrorizing pregnant women is no longer an industry in Canada or Ireland. We should learn, baby, learn.
    Please, More Lenore!

  20. I’ve been pregnant twice. I don’t remember bring shamed that much about my coffee drinking but I only had the equivalent of a cup a day. My boys appear to be fine.

    A lot of the “shaming” that goes on is easy to ignore if you are sufficiently sure of yourself. My doctor said it was fine in moderation and that was good enough for me. Plus you get horribly tired, especially in the first trimester

  21. I did have to go to the bathroom alot though. *cue the song “Elvis was a narc”
    http://www.saumyagiri.com/

  22. The study in question opens with this observation: “Caffeine is a habit-forming substance consumed daily by the majority of pregnant women.”

    So has there been a worldwide outbreak of birth defects, prenatal issues, etc., due to such caffeine use that no one has noticed until now? After all, if there is no safe level of caffeine use, but the majority of pregnant women across the globe use this “habit-forming substance,” one would expect to see resulting health issues everywhere, right?

    And what exactly is an “avoidable negative pregnancy outcome,” a vague term broad enough to mean whatever its author wants it to mean, including spilling coffee on one’s maternity clothes?

    1. So has there been a worldwide outbreak of birth defects, prenatal issues, etc., due to such caffeine use that no one has noticed until now?

      The specific brand of mental impairment that makes Marxism seem reasonable and attractive is firmly rooted in the nations most notorious for coffee production and has become increasingly common. Coffee absolutely baises people towards solving society’s ills whether they need solving or not.

    2. caffeine has been on the naughty list for pregnancy for well over 3 decades. This isn’t new science.

      It’s a mild risk, but the concern I believe is more about avoiding downing cup upon cup without regard to the impact. It’s not the casual caffeine drinker, no more then the caution against alcohol is about 1 glass of wine.

  23. “But as Joan Wolf, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Texas A&M, points out, ‘You can cherry pick 48 studies on a topic and get that study to tell you anything you want it to tell you.’”

    Really now?

    I will remember this the next time I hear a politician (to paraphrase Matt) smugly tell me about “following the science.” Although it is curious to hear a professor of women’s and gender studies pass judgment on a medical paper.

  24. the paper, which is actually a meta-analysis of several earlier studies relating caffeine and pregnancy.

    He never meta analysis he didn’t like.

  25. Caffeine is a 100% natural replacement for sleep.

    I once worked with a programmer whose coffee mug had (in MICR font) the slogan “programming fluid”.

  26. So, the woke moron is against research and publication of studies because she thinks it is “regulating pregnant women’s choices”.

    We’re going with information is bad now, eh. Good luck with that.

    Heaven forbid that things are studied that could result in some yuppy pregnant woman getting a sideways look in the line at Starbucks when she doesn’t say “decaf” with her non-fat latte. The horror.

  27. “Its findings, though, were quickly picked apart by skeptics who are sick of women being warned that almost everything they do—other than sip wheatgrass smoothies—is a risk to their kids.”

    Those smoothies are the bigger problem, leading to a huge crop of blithering pussies. “Soy boys” did not arise out of a vacuum.

  28. 48 studies out of 1261

    and pray tel just WHAT were the criteria used in selecting the forty eight and DE-selecting the other 1213? I call foul right there.

    I”ve been in coffee at a professional level for about fiteen years, and study the sicence of the stuff pretty deeply. Serious studies I’ve read show that up to four cups per day will have NO harmful effect on the child in the womb. Anecidotal support fot this is that my Mom drank about three 12 ounce percolater pots of Hills Brothers out of the can during her entire pregnancies with al nine of my generation. Not one of us had or have any adverse “situations” that could even remotely be connected to coffee consumption. She also smoked, arond three packs per day of Pell Mell filter cigarettes. Only one of us nine ever soked, and he finally got smart and knocked it when he was about forty. Her lifetime of chiansmoking is what pur her into the grave twenty years earlier than should have been, but it did not harm any of us.
    Sheesh, the same crows that wants to mandate regulate restrict deny make rules for women carrying children are most likley the same crowd that DEMANd their right to KILL their growing babies before they ever see the light of day.

    Oxymoron, anyone? Or maybe just plain MORON.

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