While doctors have previously recommended that pregnant women limit caffeine consumption, a new study suggests that even smaller amounts of caffeine may affect the developing fetus.
The study, published at the end of October in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, found that children exposed to even small amounts of caffeine before birth were, on average, shorter than children with no caffeine exposure.
While the discrepancies in height were not significant, they were nonetheless measurable. Dr. Jessica Gleason, a perinatal epidemiologist and research fellow at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development stressed, “To be clear, these are not huge differences in height, but there are these small differences in height among the children of people who consumed caffeine during pregnancy.” According to the study, children exposed to caffeine in the womb were nearly one inch shorter, on average, than children not exposed to caffeine.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women cap caffeine consumption at 200 milligrams per day. This equates to less than one and a half cups of drip coffee. This latest study, however, found a height discrepancy among children whose mothers consumed less than half a cup of coffee per day while pregnant.
While the study is promising and will prompt further research, it’s inconclusive. According to Dr. Gavin Pereira, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Curtin University in Australia, “The correlation observed in this study can be explained by the existence of a common cause of both caffeine consumption and growth restriction, e.g., poverty, stress, and dietary factors.” In other words, women who drink coffee and give birth to shorter children may also share other factors responsible for the height discrepancy, but further investigation is still needed.
A height difference of less than one inch isn’t particularly significant on its surface. However, shorter height persisting into adulthood can lead to cardiometabolic issues, resulting in disorders found more commonly among shorter statures, like diabetes and heart disease.
At this point, researchers cannot determine whether height discrepancies identified in young children will persist into adulthood. The study authors stressed that the insight gained from the research draws conclusions about populations, not individuals. Critically, the authors emphasized that parents should not panic if their children are shorter than their peers.
Individuals who wish to reduce their caffeine consumption should be aware that stimulant is often found in unexpected products. For many, coffee will be the single largest source of caffeine, but significant amounts can also be found in tea, energy drinks, soft drinks, and even chocolate. Moreover, some energy bars, and even painkillers, also contain caffeine.
According to a study from Johns Hopkins University in 2016, researchers found it helpful for participants to identify and subsequently avoid scenarios that trigger caffeine cravings, such as particular locations, people, or moods.
For example, avoid congregating with workplace colleagues around the coffee machine at break time. Instead, consider another activity in its place, like taking a short walk.