Little coffee during pregnancy
Women who drink four or more cups of coffee a day during pregnancy are more likely to lose their baby to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than expectant mothers who drink less caffeine take. This thesis is advanced in an article published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (January 1998 issue). Findings are based on data from the NewZealand Cot Death Study. They suggest that high caffeine consumption may affect the developing baby's respiratory system. The New Zealand Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Study includes data over a three year period. R. P. K. Ford of the Community Pediatric Unit in Christchurch, New Zealand, and his colleagues surveyed more than 80 percent of the mothers in the study (393 mothers) - women whose children had died - and compared their caffeine consumption to that of about1600 mothers of he althy babies.
The researchers found that among mothers of babies who died from cot death, women were twice as likely to consume large amounts of caffeine, and this was relatively constant throughout pregnancy. High consumption was defined as more than 400 mg of caffeine per day - the equivalent of about four cups of coffee, ten cups of tea or ten glasses of cola.
The research team also tried to consider other possible influences such as smoking, maternal age and feeding methods; the effect of caffeine has been shown to be distinguishable from the other factors that can influence infant death.
Caffeine crosses the placenta and heavy caffeine consumption during pregnancy has been shown to cause low birth weight, miscarriage and temporary breathing problems in newborns. Fetal stress is greatest in the third trimester, when the mother's ability to clear caffeine from her system is greatly reduced.
Researchers believe that the risk of cot death may be increased by caffeine's stimulating effects on the fetal respiratory system. "It is possible that the fetal respiratory center could be altered by the presence of high concentrations of caffeine," the scientists believe. "Subsequent withdrawal of caffeine after birth could then lead to inadequate breathing in the infant."
Although the researchers emphasize that their findings need to be corroborated by other researchers, they are convinced: “The importance of these findings is that drinking coffee, tea and cola is a common behavior that can easily be changed. Mothers therefore have the opportunity to avoid these risk factors.”
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