Pregnant women should cut caffeine to avoid early childhood weight gain

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

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.

They therefore drew on just under 51,000 mother and infant pairs, all of whom were part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study between 2002 and 2008.

Researchers observed a similar risk trajectory for overweight in childhood.

"The results add supporting evidence for the current advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy and indicate that complete avoidance might actually be advisable", they add.

Caffeine passes rapidly through tissues, including the placenta, and takes the body longer to get rid of during pregnancy.

Very high levels of caffeine consumption during pregnancy were linked with less than a pound of excess weight up to age 5, but slightly over a pound by age 8, the researchers reported. Researchers assessed infant weight gain by calculating the difference in sex-adjusted World Health Organization weight-for-age z scores between birth and age 1 year, using reported weights, and determined childhood overweight, including obesity, at two time points at ages 3 and 5 years and once at age 8 years.

Other studies have confirmed problems with caffeine intake during pregnancy, including a 2015 study by Kaiser Foundation Research Institute that found exposure to caffeine in the womb was associated with an 87 percent increased risk of childhood obesity.

In utero exposure to any caffeine was associated with higher risk of overweight at age three and five years, while the association persisted at eight years, only for very high exposures.

She said animal studies have shown caffeine programmes the offspring towards obesity and cardiometabolic disorders through alterating chemicals that play a key role in growth and metabolism.

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Pregnant women have previously been advised to limit caffeine intake, but the researchers now wonder whether to totally cut the stimulant out.

For the study, Papadopoulou's team asked women who had been pregnant for 22 weeks how much caffeine they consumed.

Sources of caffeine included coffee, black tea, fizzy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads, desserts, cakes and candies.

A mug of instant coffee, on average, contains 100mg of caffeine while a mug of tea has 75mg.

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

Because babies exposed to high levels of caffeine in the womb are more likely to go on to be overweight children.

Average, high, and very high caffeine intake during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk - 15 per cent, 30 per cent, and 66 per cent respectively - of "excess growth" during their child's infancy compared to children born to mothers who had a low caffeine intake during pregnancy.

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".

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