what are the major concerns voiced about caffeinism and the potential of caffeine, including risks assciated with its use during pregnancy. In your opinion, how serious are those risks?
Risks during pregnancy may include miscarriage or stillborn infants. While all researchers agree that caffeine can pose serious risks in pregnancy, the consensus has not formed as to what level of caffeine crosses over to from safe to harmful. Some studies suggest 200 mg while others suggest 300 mg is the danger point. These same controversial levels can cause infertility in women seeking to become pregnant. New borns whose mothers exceeded the 200 mg to 300 mg levels had faster breathing, faster heart rates, and slept less than others. Infants may also suffer low birthweight, a condition that can have longer lasting repercussions than premature birth.
The current recommendation is that pregnant women abstain or reduce their caffeine intake. When I was pregnant, most of the baby books would say a cup of coffee or two sodas was about the limit on caffeine. I think the recommendation is less than 200mg but that might have changed. Caffeine does cross the placenta and get into the baby's blood stream. The problem starts with the fact that the baby is simply so small. While a mother's body can handle the caffeine easily, the tiny fetus struggles. Caffeine increases heart rate, blood pressure, and effects other functions. For pregnant women, these changes can be damaging to the fetus.
My wife has just told me about when she lived and worked in Spain in 1994 and one of her colleagues was told to stop drinking caffeine but to carry on smoking was absolutely fine. Whilst hopefully such advice will have changed now, it does draw your attention to the way that so much advice is culturally bound relating to pregnancies. Whilst there is a risk of miscarriage with too much caffeine, at the same time, as my granny used to say (may she rest in peace), everything in moderation. Certainly, if you are a caffeine addict, it would be a good idea to cut back, but I don't think there is mich harm in the odd coffee every now and again.
For those with serious caffeine addictions, finding out you are pregnant is a great joy, but the dread of the caffeine withdrawal headaches and constipation are a huge dread. My doctor told me to cut down the consumption of coffee to just enough to avoid the headache and then wean down from there. The greatest risk was a connection between caffeine and miscarriage, and a healthy baby was all the really mattered once I was told of the risks of caffeine.
I can't find anything, even in "alternative medicine" literature, that lists benefits of caffeine to pregnancy. This first link seems pretty authoritative, as does this one, and my conclusion -- not that I'm likely to become pregnant in the near future -- is that it's best to avoid it until after the birth. If you choose to consume caffeinated drinks during pregnancy, remember that moderation is best in all things.
Apparently moderate use of caffeine during pregnancy (one cup of coffee a day) is now considered acceptable. The safest course, however, seems to avoid caffeine entirely. Since decaffeinated coffee is now often so flavorful that avoiding caffeinated coffee is easier than ever. Knowing that a particular kind of food or drink can be dangerous to one's health -- and especially to the long-term health of a baby -- is a very powerful incentive to decrease or eliminate such eating and drinking.
To answer the second part of your question, based upon pohnpei's answer, the risks of consuming caffeine are great. Low birth weight can affect the development of an infant and too much caffeine in the first trimester can result in miscarriage. Therefore, I would say that the loss of the pregnancy is a very serious risk.
The most important problem with using caffeine during pregnancy is that it is associated with low birth weight. Low birth rate in babies is associated with many other problems. Caffeine in the first trimester can also result in miscarriages.