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Caffeine in pregnancy won't harm offspring

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By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

Adding to the ongoing debate over what expectant mothers should eat and drink, new Dutch research finds no link between caffeine consumption during pregnancy and later behavioral problems in kids.

The study by Eva Loomans, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and colleagues appears in the August print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

However, previous studies have linked high levels of caffeine consumption to a greater risk of miscarriage, and a researcher behind one of those studies said the new report doesn't change the fact that caffeine can be risky.

"Women should reduce or stop caffeine intake during pregnancy," said Dr. De-Kun Li, a senior research scientist at Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, who co-authored a 2008 study into caffeine consumption in pregnant women, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Another researcher, Dr. Laura Elizabeth Riley, director of obstetrics and gynecology infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, said science has known little about any possible connection between caffeine in pregnant women and behavioral problems. "Animal studies suggest that caffeine would be problematic for the fetus, but the human studies I am aware of do not suggest any such association," she said.

It's an especially tough issue to study because many possible factors could explain why a kid has behavioral issues, she noted. "That said," Riley added, "the biologic plausibility for a link between caffeine and behavior is there, as we know it is a potent stimulant."

It's difficult to know for sure whether caffeine is risky for pregnant mothers because the gold standard of research would require scientists to randomly assign some women to consume it and watch what happens. The new Dutch study doesn't take that approach but instead asked women around the 16th week of pregnancy to look backward and try to remember what they drank -- in terms of beverages that may include caffeine such as coffee, tea and cola -- over the previous week.

About 8,200 mothers answered the initial questions about their caffeine intake.

Later, when the babies had grown to 5 or 6 years old, the researchers surveyed the mothers and the children's teachers about the behavior of those 3,439 kids who were available for follow-up questions.

After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by a variety of factors including high or low numbers of mothers of certain ages, education levels and levels of anxiety before pregnancy, the researchers found no link between caffeine consumption and behavior or social problems.

Li, the Kaiser Foundation researcher, said, "it is premature to make any conclusion based on the finding from this study, certainly not about the safety of caffeine consumption in pregnancy, even in the context of children's behavior."

He said other research suggests risks other than miscarriage in women who consume high levels of caffeine. One is slowed growth of the fetus, Li said, and "there could be other adverse effects on the fetus that we do not know yet."

More information

For more about pregnancy, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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