Drinking caffeine while pregnant impacts child’s height: Study

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Starting the day with a hot cup of coffee or tea may sound holy to some, but it could have negative effects for the children of pregnant women, according to a new study.

Children who were exposed to small amounts of caffeine before birth were found to be shorter on average than the children of people who did not consume caffeine during pregnancy, according to the study published Monday in JAMA Network Open.

Children of parents who consumed caffeine while in the womb were shown to be shorter in stature at age 4 than those whose parents did not – and the gap widened by 8 years each year, according to lead author Dr. Jessica Gleason, a perinatal. epidemiologist.

“To be clear, these are not huge height differences, but there are these small height differences between the children of people who consumed caffeine during pregnancy,” said Gleason, who is a researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health. . and Human Development.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists currently recommends limiting caffeine consumption to less than 200 milligrams per day during pregnancy.

For context, a cup of caffeinated tea typically has about 75 milligrams of caffeine, a cup of instant coffee has about 100 milligrams and a cup of filtered coffee has about 140 milligrams, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And even chocolate has about 31 milligrams of caffeine.

But the differences found in the recent study were also found in the children of parents who drank less than half a cup of coffee a day during pregnancy — well below current guidelines, Gleason said.

It is not clear whether this study effectively shows the causal relationship between maternal caffeine consumption and child height, according to Dr. Gavin Pereira, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Curtin University in Australia. Pereira was not involved in the study.

“The correlation observed in this study can be explained by the existence of a common cause of coffee consumption and growth restriction such as poverty, stress and dietary factors,” said Pereira in a statement to the Science Media Center.

Even small amounts of caffeine can affect a fetus in the womb, according to the study.

If shorter height persists from early childhood into adulthood, there is a chance that these children may be at risk of poor cardiometabolic outcomes, such as heart disease and diabetes, that are associated with shorter stature.

But there’s still no way to know if the difference would persist into adulthood, and studies like this one that focus on population outcomes are no reason for individual families to panic, Gleason said.

These population-level trends should instead be taken together with other research to help organizations reassess their recommendations, Gleason said.

In the past, there have been inconsistent studies on whether consuming caffeine during pregnancy affects the fetus, but the evidence has come together in recent years, Gleason said.

A 2015 meta-analysis that reviewed all the existing research found that there is a dose response association between consumption of caffeine and smaller birth size. And a 2020 study revealed that there is no safe level of caffeine for a developing fetus.

Even without the panic that Gleason warned against, some people want to cut back on caffeine — and then find that it’s easier said than done.

Remember, caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and shots, as well as cocoa and chocolate. It is also present in fortified snack foods, some energy bars and even some pain medications. (For a more extensive list of caffeine content from various sources, see the chart from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

A 2016 Johns Hopkins University study found that it was helpful if individuals identified situations or moods in which they were most likely to crave caffeine, so they could avoid situations that trigger cravings, especially in the first few weeks of changing caffeine use. Caffeine drinkers could also have a plan for when cravings occur, such as taking a five-minute relaxation break with deep breathing exercises.

Always remember to discuss any major lifestyle or dietary changes with your healthcare provider, as the changes may affect your mood or medical conditions.


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