At a Glance
- Does maternal caffeine consumption affect child growth?
- Children of women with low-measured caffeine and paraxanthine during pregnancy were shorter than those who consumed no caffeine during pregnancy.
- Maternal caffeine consumption was associated with shorter stature in their children.
Caffeine consumption during pregnancy causes shorter height in more than 2,400 births, according to a study recently published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The study suggests that children of mothers who drink even one-half of coffee, equivalent to 50 mg of caffeine a day, during their pregnancy may have a height difference of 1.5 centimeters (cm) compared to the children of mothers who drink no coffee (Gleason et al., 2022).
“Our findings suggest that even low caffeine intake during pregnancy can have long-term effects on child growth,” said Dr. Katherine Grantz of the Division of Population Health Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
“Importantly, the height differences we observed are small—less than an inch—and further research is needed to determine if these differences affect child health. Pregnant people should discuss caffeine consumption with their healthcare providers.”
How Much Caffeine Is Safe for Pregnant Women
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug found in many plants and plant products: coffee, tea, and cacao. The compound is most often consumed as a stimulant but can also be used to modify mood or relieve fatigue. Caffeine is also used in medications, such as diuretics and cold remedies. It works by increasing the production of adrenaline, which regulates the body’s response to stress.
Consuming caffeine during pregnancy isn’t harmful as long as you don’t exceed the recommended dose. Current guidelines recommends daily no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. That’s the equivalent of about two cups of coffee.
Work Led to Current Study
Prior research has shown that coffee consumption has been associated with several adverse pregnancy outcomes. One such outcome is that children born to women consuming caffeine higher than 5 mg/day caffeine during their pregnancy increase the risk of higher BMI compared to babies born to no caffeine or less caffeine-consuming mothers (Papadopoulou et al., 2018).
Supporting the finding, the NICHD researchers, in a previous report, showed that moderate caffeine intake during pregnancy might lead to a smaller birth size (Gleason et al., 2021). What is new in the current study is the findings that consuming caffeine has lasting effects on child growth.
The researchers analyzed data from two previous studies: Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) and Collaborative Perinatal Project (CCP). The studies evaluated the presence of caffeine and its breakdown product paraxanthine in blood samples taken from more than 2400 participants.
The researchers investigated the existence of correlations between prenatal caffeine consumption and body mass index, and obesity risk in both study populations.
In the ECHO study, on average, pregnant women consumed less than 50 mg of caffeine daily. The investigators measured child growth once at an average age of 7 years. Of the participants, 788 children born to mothers who ingested the highest amounts of caffeine were shorter by 1.5 cm than those whose mothers consumed the lowest caffeine intake.
In the CCP study, this gap was 0.68 cm when the children were at 4. The difference extended to 2.2 cm when the children were at age 8. This analysis included 1,622 mother-child pairs. The mothers, during their pregnancy, consumed around 200 mg of caffeine per day.
The ECHO enrolled children of mothers who participated in the NICHD-funded Fetal Growth Study from 2009 to 2013. The collaborative Perinatal Project (CCP) was conducted in the 1960s and 1970s.
The results suggest that consuming small amounts of caffeine daily during pregnancy may lead to shorter child stature, at least up to the age of 8.
“Future research on caffeine consumption during pregnancy should follow child growth over time to determine whether these height gaps continue into adulthood and if they are linked to a greater risk for cardiometabolic diseases,” said Dr. Gleason.