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Drinking coffee during pregnancy could make babies obese, experts say

27 April 2018

As an observational study, the researchers can not confirm causality, however, they did point out that the sample size was large, and the findings do support the existing advice to limit caffeine intake while pregnant.

Pregnant women should cut out coffee and other caffeinated food and drink completely to prevent their children from becoming overweight, a controversial new study suggests.

The study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health looked at 50,000 mothers and children and found a link between children exposed to more than 200mg of caffeine per day (two coffees or four teas) and excess weight gain during early childhood.

But the observational study did not provide a clear cause and effect.

They found exposure to any caffeine level while in the womb was associated with a heightened risk of the child being overweight by age 3 and 5.

Some experts are advising that the study should be viewed with caution.

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Although the study is the largest on the association of prenatal caffeine exposure and childhood growth parameters, the researchers wrote that "our findings might be explained by residual confounding of non-accounted factors related to an overall unhealthy lifestyle and high caffeine consumption; though exclusion of smokers and very high caffeine consumers did not modify the results".

The research also supported an earlier study in 2015 that stated caffeine in pregnancy increases childhood obesity risks to as much as 87 percent.

The researchers found that exposure to any caffeine level while in the womb was linked to a heightened risk of overweight at the ages of 3 and 5 years. "It may well be that the relationship between caffeine intake in pregnancy and infant growth in the first year of life is spurious".

"This study adds supporting evidence for the current advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy".

Sources of caffeine in the study included coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads; and desserts, cakes, and candies.

"It has already been recommended that women should limit caffeine intake during pregnancy, therefore the overall conclusion of this work is not novel or unexpected". Caffeine passes through tissues such as placenta, that can lead to delay in delivery of a baby.

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"The evidence provided in the study for a causal effect is extremely weak and the statement from the authors that "complete avoidance might actually be advisable" seems unjustified, particularly when we consider the effects that such a restriction might have on wellbeing of mothers".

The team also measured the children's weight, height and body length at 11 points between the ages of 6 weeks old and 8 years of age.

Just under half of the mums-to-be (46%) were classified as low caffeine intake; 44% as average intake; 7% as high; and 3% as very high.

The women were grouped by the amount of caffeine they consumed daily: 0 to 49 mg was considered low; 50 to 199 mg was average; 200 to 299 mg was high; and 300 mg or more was considered very high.

The results have been published online in the journal BMJ Open.

However they do not warrant the need for women to abstain from caffeine at this stage, said Dr Pecoraro. Additionally, it can increase risks of miscarriage and constricts fetal growth.

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Drinking coffee during pregnancy could make babies obese, experts say