Births not affected by caffeine intake

Danish study finds no link to early, underweight babies

January 26, 2007|By Judy Peres | Judy Peres,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Pregnant coffee drinkers, take heart: A new study provides evidence that the mother's moderate caffeine intake will not cause a baby to be born early or underweight.

Doctors still agree it's probably not a good idea to have 10 grande lattes a day. But with the new data, "you're essentially telling women, `Don't worry about it.' We can drink coffee during pregnancy and not have problems," said Dr. Marilynn Frederiksen, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Although fears that caffeine could lead to birth defects and miscarriage have largely been allayed in recent years, questions remained about whether it might be linked to birth weight and premature birth.

The latest study, reported today in the online version of the British Medical Journal, is the first to attempt a controlled, randomized trial - the gold standard of medical investigation.

Danish researchers recruited more than 1,200 healthy women in the early months of pregnancy who acknowledged drinking at least three cups of coffee a day.

The women were randomly assigned to receive either regular or decaffeinated instant coffee in unmarked packages.

The women were instructed to replace their usual coffee, at home and at work, with the contents of the packages, but they were allowed to drink coffee, tea, cocoa and cola served by others.

Throughout the second half of their pregnancies, the women were asked to report their daily consumption of mystery coffee and other sources of caffeine. Those interviews were used to calculate their actual caffeine intake.

The researchers confirmed that the women assigned decaf consumed less caffeine than the others - an average of 117 milligrams per day compared with 317 milligrams. An 8-ounce cup of regular coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine; instant about 65.

No significant differences occurred between the two groups in the birth weight of their babies or the frequency of pre-term delivery - even among women who drank more than seven cups of coffee a day. The babies in both groups averaged about 7 pounds 12 ounces, and the rate of premature births was 4 percent to 5 percent.

The only significant difference was between smokers and nonsmokers: Women who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day when they entered the trial had babies that weighed nearly 10 ounces less if they were assigned to drink regular coffee than if they got decaf.

The researchers noted that smokers metabolize caffeine faster than nonsmokers and said it's possible that the activity of a particular metabolite could influence fetal growth.

The study is a bit of fresh air "for these poor, beleaguered pregnant women who are told they can't eat peanut butter because of aflatoxins and they can't eat fish because of mercury," said Dr. Linda Hughey Holt, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University.

"Some [gynecologists] say no cheese, no sushi, no honey, no beef. This would be kind of reassuring."

Judy Peres writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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