Drinking just one cup of coffee a day during pregnancy could put a child on the path to obesity, say scientists.
The researchers used data on nearly 51,000 mother and infant pairs from a Norwegian health study between 2002 and 2008 and identified a link between caffeine during pregnancy and excess weight gain in children.
Because the study also found a risk of excess weight in children whose mothers consumed less caffeine, the results also add to the evidence suggesting that pregnant women might want to consider avoiding coffee and soda altogether, Papadopoulou added.
It is important that pregnant women be aware that caffeine does not come from coffee only, but also from sodas and energy drinks, which can contribute a lot of caffeine to daily consumption, she said.
Caffeine passes rapidly through tissues, including the placenta, and takes the body longer to get rid of during pregnancy.
Only very high caffeine intake (300 + mg a day) was linked to excess weight gain at eight years.
"This study adds supporting evidence for the current advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy".
No research can definitively prove what level of caffeine is safe in pregnancy because scientists won't ethically test drugs or supplements in women when there's a potential to harm mothers or their babies. Once the mothers hit 22 weeks of pregnancy, they were asked to detail their food and drink intake, including their caffeine intake.
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On average, children exposed to very high levels of caffeine weighed 480 grams more than children who had been exposed to low levels, according to the study.
The research provides no evidence of a causal link between prenatal exposure to caffeine and early childhood obesity, argues Dr Clovis Palmer, Senior Monash University Fellow and head of the Immunometabolism and Inflammation Laboratory at the Burnet Institute. However, the association persisted at 8 years only for very high exposures.
In the study of almost 51,000 women and their babies, average caffeine consumption during pregnancy was tied to a 15 percent higher risk of a child gaining excess weight.
Women who consumed high amounts of caffeine were more likely to be older than 30, have more than one child, consume more calories and smoke during pregnancy, the findings showed.
The research, which was carried out among 51,000 mothers and their infants between 2002 and 2008, reveals that caffeine consumed not only from coffee and tea, but also through soft drinks or energy drinks, chocolate, sandwich spreads, desserts, cakes and candies, can negatively impact on a young child's weight gain.
In the current study, 46 per cent of the mothers had low caffeine intake during pregnancy, at less than 50 milligrams a day, and another 44 per cent had what researchers described as average intake, of 50 to 199 milligrams daily.
Children prenatally exposed to caffeine intake 200mg/day had consistently higher weight.
"It's likely that caffeine is not good for you, especially in high doses", he said.