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Coffee Increases Low Birth Weight Risk: Study

Update Date: Feb 19, 2013 04:14 AM EST

According to a new study, caffeine in the mother's diet may be linked to a longer gestation period and babies with low birth weight.

Caffeine along with food and water reaches the growing fetus, but the fetus hasn't developed the enzymes necessary to inactivate caffeine completely, thus increasing the risk for various health complications.

Previous studies have linked high doses of caffeine intake with higher risk of miscarriage. In 2010, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that 200 milligrams of caffeine a day will not be a major contributing factor in miscarriage or preterm birth.

Coffee is not the only drink that contains caffeine. One cup of chocolate chips (semisweet) contains about 104mg of caffeine; dark chocolate-coated coffee beans have about 336 mg of caffeine for 28 pieces; Coca-Cola Classic 12 oz. (355 mL) has about 30 to 35 mg of caffeine. Medications like Excedrin, Extra Strength (2 tablets) has 130mg and NoDoz, Maximum Strength (1 tablet) has about 200 mg of caffeine.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, a moderate level of caffeine - between 150 mg and 300mg - is safe for pregnant women.

The present study was conducted by researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Public Health who collected information on more than 60,000 births. Researchers then assessed the amount of caffeine consumed by the expecting mothers. The study accounted for all sources of caffeine including cakes, chocolates, fizzy drinks, etc.

The study results showed that all sources of caffeine increased the risk of low birth weight babies and longer gestation periods.

"Although caffeine consumption is strongly correlated with smoking which is known to increase the risk for both preterm delivery and the baby being small for gestational age at birth (SGA). In this study we found no association between either total caffeine or coffee caffeine and preterm delivery but we did find an association between caffeine and SGA. This association remained even when we looked only at non-smoking mothers which implies that the caffeine itself is also having an effect on birth weight," Dr. Verena Sengpiel, from Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden, who led the project said in a news release.

Women who obtained caffeine from coffee had an increased chance of a longer gestation period - 8hr extra for every 100mg of caffeine consumed by the mother in a day. This association wasn't found in women who got their caffeine from tea, showing that some substance in coffee is the reason for the extended gestation period.

The study is published in the journal BMC Medicine.

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