Q. I am 25-weeks pregnant and I have a major caffeine problem. I drink soda four to five times a day. I would like to know if soda is harmful to my unborn baby, and if it is, what harm does it do?
A. As a general guideline for foods and drinks during pregnancy, if it isn't good for mother, it isn't good for the baby. Most sodas have a nutritional double fault—too much sugar and too much caffeine—not to mention artificial colors and flavors. The sugar/caffeine combination sends bodies and minds on an uncomfortable, and unhealthy, biochemical roller coaster ride. Here's the scoop on soda:
Soda has too much sugar
A 12-ounce can of soda contains about ten teaspoons of sugar. When you gulp a can of soda, the sugar gets into your bloodstream too fast. This sends your blood-sugar levels really high, and triggers an insulin burst. Eventually, you crash, as you go from high to low blood sugar—a yucky feeling dubbed "sugar blues." Then, the low blood-sugar level causes you to crave more sugar, and it's back to the soda again.
The repeated ups and downs don't just make you feel bad—it has a definite impact on your baby. A steady insulin level is important for your baby's optimal growth. When you do drink sodas, drink them with meals containing protein, fat, and fiber, which slow the absorption of the sugars into your bloodstream.
Don't be misled by that common sugar substitute, high fructose corn syrup. This sweetener is just as bad for your body. In fact, recent research suggests that beverages with high fructose corn syrup are prime contributors to the epidemic of childhood and adult obesity. And don't think that you are making a smarter decision by drinking diet sodas. Artificial sweeteners have never convincingly been proven safe during pregnancy. Plus, diet sodas still contain caffeine.
Caffeine in soda makes it even worse for you
Like the law of gravity, chemicals that go up in the body must come down. The high you get from caffeine in soda is followed six to eight hours later by caffeine low, making you feel tired and even depressed. Caffeine also triggers hormones that release stored sugar in the liver, exaggerating the roller-coaster effect of sugars. So you get caffeine high that produces a sugar high, followed by a sugar low, then you crave more caffeine to get high again. Your body is on two biochemical roller coasters.
There are other side effects of caffeine that pregnant women should watch out for. Excess caffeine during the day can interfere with the quality of your sleep—sleep that you certainly need while pregnant. And beverages with caffeine have a diuretic effect, which may contribute to dehydration, constipation, and extra trips to the bathroom during the night.
Soda fills you with empty calories
Four 12-ounce cans of soda a day come to about 600 calories. That translates to a pound of extra fat gain a week, putting you at risk for a more difficult delivery and increasing the chances you might develop gestational diabetes. These are "empty calories," meaning they don't provide any of the nutrition you need. And because fluids are not filling, it's easier to overdrink than to overeat. You get filled up and lose cravings for nutrition that both you and your baby need.
Carbonation robs your body of calcium
If all this isn't bad enough, consider this: The fizzy stuff in sodas is called phosphate. When phosphate gets into your bloodstream, it goes looking for its partner, calcium. It steals calcium out of your calcium bank, your bones.
I definitely recommend you wean yourself off caffeine-containing sodas while pregnant. Just don't buy them—out of sight is out of stomach. When you have to drive to get a caffeine-containing drink, you'll think twice. Try a comforting cup of warm water instead. It's calorie-free and junk-food-free. You owe it to your health—and that of your baby—to have as pure a diet as possible during your pregnancy.