How much coffee, wine is too much when you're pregnant?

Published1/21/2009 12:02 AM

Q. There is a big discussion at my school (where I teach) regarding the need to cut back on alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy. I have no serious health problems and have an average of two cups of coffee during the daytime, and a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. I was going to half this but would eliminate it entirely if needed. What is the latest concerning the use of alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy?

S.M., Berkeley, Calif.


A. I will deliver the bottom line up top: Neither is essential for the health of your child. Of all the times in life, pregnancy is not the time to take risks. It would be best to eliminate both alcohol and caffeine and err on the side of safety.

As for the debate, you can find population studies and research data on all sides of the issue. I found studies reporting that caffeine causes no problems, but others finding that excess caffeine is associated with risks. Note the word "excess." There is always the "risk" (another key word) that one will react at lower levels.

Arguing against consumption is the fact that caffeine passes from the mother to her unborn child through the placenta. The system that breaks down caffeine in the unborn child takes awhile to develop, meaning that a caffeine buzz floats around the developing brain for longer periods of time compared with the mother.

Similar arguments can be found for alcohol, and, rather go through those particulars, let's acknowledge that an excess of alcohol is definitely bad, and that no alcohol consumption is definitely the safest. You can find research indicating that no more than one drink a day (consumed with a meal) does not appear to be associated with any harm to the health of the unborn child or mother, but, again, why take the risk? Anyone considering this topic should review the Center for Disease Control's Web page on alcohol and pregnancy at

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Q. The clerk at our local health store encourages us to purchase liquid vitamins, saying that they are easier to absorb than hard pills or capsules. Is this true? I have one additional question about tryptophan. How does the tryptophan level of soy milk compare with cow's milk?

A.A., Stamford, Conn.

A. Supplement capsules and pills should be designed to dissolve before they reach the absorptive surfaces of the small intestine, and such will be the case unless the manufacturer has cut corners. If you have questions, you can ask for dissolution data from the maker of the product you are considering. Assuming there is no problem with an individual's digestive system and food is traveling through the system at a normal rate, there is no evidence that vitamins (and/or minerals) taken as liquid supplements will yield greater absorption than a similar amount in pill or capsule form.

Regarding tryptophan, 1 cup of soy milk contains about 6.7 grams of protein, of which 105 milligrams is tryptophan ( A cup of lowfat (1 percent) milk contains 8.2 grams of protein and 98 milligrams of tryptophan. If you opt for protein-fortified milk, you will have 9.7 grams of protein and 135 milligrams of tryptophan per cup.

• Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and the author. Write him at "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Association, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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