THE QUESTION If a pregnant woman consumes caffeine, which is known to be a stimulant, might this affect the behavior of the child she’s carrying?
THIS STUDY involved 3,439 children born to women (average age, 32) whose caffeine intake, based on their consumption of coffee, tea and soft drinks, had been computed when they were 16 weeks pregnant. The children’s conduct was assessed at age 5 and included whether they exhibited emotional difficulties, had trouble interacting with peers, were hyperactive or inattentive or had general behavioral problems. Virtually no difference in conduct was found between children whose mothers had consumed the most caffeine and those who had consumed the least. In both groups, for instance, about 5 percent had emotional issues and 8 percent were hyperactive or inattentive.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Pregnant women and their babies. Pregnant women often are advised to limit caffeine because studies have suggested that it may raise the risk for a miscarriage, cause a fetus to grow more slowly than normal and increase the fetal heart rate, although other studies have reached conflicting conclusions. Studies in animals, however, have shown that caffeine does reach the brain of a fetus and may affect development and behavior.
CAVEATS Caffeine intake was assessed only once; whether it varied over the course of a pregnancy was not determined. The data came from the women’s responses on a questionnaire and did not include caffeine from chocolate, energy drinks or medication. Data on the children’s behavior came from evaluations done by their mothers and their teachers.
FIND THIS STUDY July 9 online issue of Pediatrics.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.