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Starting the day with a hot cup of coffee or tea with caffeine may sound divine to some, but it could have negative effects on the children of people who are pregnant, according to a new study.
Children 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 the JAMA Network Open.
Children of parents who consumed caffeine while in the womb were found to be shorter in stature at age 4 than those whose parents didn’t — and the gap widened every year until they were 8 years old, according to lead author dr. Jessica Gleason, a perinatal epidemiologist.
“To be clear, these aren’t huge height differences, but there are minor height differences between the children of people who consumed caffeine during pregnancy,” said Gleason, 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 during pregnancy to less than 200 milligrams per day.
For context: A mug of caffeinated tea usually has about 75 milligrams of caffeine, a mug of instant coffee has about 100 milligrams, and a mug of filtered coffee has about 140 milligrams, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And even chocolate contains about 31 milligrams of caffeine.
But the differences found in the most recent study were even 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’s not clear whether this study effectively demonstrates a causal relationship between maternal caffeine consumption and infant height, according to Dr. Gavin Pereira, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Curtin University in Australia. Pereira was not involved in the investigation.
“The correlation observed in this study may be explained by the existence of a common cause of both caffeine consumption and growth restriction, for example poverty, stress and dietary factors,” Pereira said in a statement to the Science Media Center.
If the shorter height were to persist in early childhood into adulthood, there would be a chance those children would be at risk for poor cardiometabolic outcomes, such as heart disease and diabetes, which are associated with shorter stature.
But there’s still no way of knowing whether 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 combined with other research for organizations to reassess their recommendations, Gleason said.
In the past, there have been inconsistent studies about whether consuming caffeine during pregnancy affected the fetus, but the evidence has come together in recent years, Gleason said.
A 2015 meta-analysis reviewing all existing research found that there is a dose-response association between caffeine consumption and smaller birth size. And a 2020 study revealed there is no safe level of caffeine for a developing fetus.
Even without the panic Gleason warned about, some people may want to cut back on caffeine — only to find that it’s easier said than done.
Remember that caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and shots, as well as cocoa and chocolate. It is also present in fortified snacks, some energy bars and even some pain relievers. (For a more comprehensive list of caffeine content from various sources, check out the chart from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)
A 2016 Johns Hopkins University study found that it was helpful when individuals identified situations or moods in which they were most likely to crave caffeine so that they could avoid craving situations, especially during the first few weeks of cravings. adjusting caffeine consumption. Caffeine drinkers can also have a plan for when cravings occur, such as taking a five-minute relaxation break with deep breathing exercises.
Remember to always discuss important lifestyle or diet changes with your healthcare provider first, as changes can affect your mood or medical condition.