Mothers' caffeine intake linked to overweight children finds major pregnancy study

Guidelines advise pregnant women to limit caffeine consumption to no more than 200mg a day. Stock Image PA

Babies exposed to high levels of caffeine in the womb are more likely to go on to be overweight children, a new study suggests.

"This is an important finding, given that about 75% of women drink coffee during pregnancy and also because of our obesity problem", perinatal epidemiologist Dr. De-Kun Li, who was not part of the study, told CNN.

In the study of almost 51,000 women and their babies, average caffeine consumption during pregnancy was tied to a 15 percent higher risk of a child gaining excess weight. And women with a very high caffeine intake during their pregnancy were more likely to be poorly educated, and to have been obese before they got pregnant.

"Notwithstanding, the work adds to a growing body of evidence that a break from a cuppa during pregnancy may be good for the health of the next generation".

The findings, which back general advice to limit caffeine intake while pregnant, prompt the researchers to query whether mums-to-be should cut out the world's most widely consumed central nervous system stimulant altogether.

Children prenatally exposed to caffeine intake 200mg/day had consistently higher weight.

And prenatal exposure to any level of caffeine was associated with a child's greater risk of being overweight at ages 3 and 5 years.

While any exposure to caffeine during pregnancy was found to impact negatively on the child's health, mothers who consumed "average, high and very high" levels of caffeine were more likely to see their child gain excess weight.

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Sources of caffeine included coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft/energy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads; and desserts, cakes, and candies. But the risk only appeared to persist until youngsters were eight if their mother had "very high" consumption in pregnancy.

On average, children exposed to very high levels of caffeine before birth weighed 2.4 to 2.9 ounces more at 3-12 months, 3.9 to 4.8 ounces more as toddlers up to 2, 5.7 to 11.2 ounces more as pre-schoolers from 3-5 years and 16.9 ounces more at the age of 8 compared with children who weren't exposed to these levels. The observed results are the evidence for advised that refraining the caffeine intake during pregnancy is the best thing for the mother and fetus, the researchers concluded. Just under half of the mothers were classified as consuming a low level of caffeine, 44 per cent consumed an average level, seven per cent a high level and three per cent a very high level.

"Women must note that coffee and tea aren't the only source of caffeine, as it's often present in chocolates, sodas and some pain relief medicines".

"However, the link between in utero caffeine exposure and excess growth in infancy is yet to be studied, even though excess infant growth is an established risk factor in the etiology of obesity and cardiometabolic disease".

During pregnancy, elimination of caffeine is prolonged, rapidly passing all biological membranes, including the blood-brain and placenta barriers, exposing the foetus.

The guidance is based on supporting evidence of the adverse effects of caffeine on miscarriage rates and foetal growth restriction.

However they do not warrant the need for women to abstain from caffeine at this stage, said Dr Pecoraro.

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