If you or someone you know has been pregnant or are pregnant, you might have come across people saying “you should not be drinking coffee whilst pregnant”.
However, as an avid coffee drinking population, cutting out a daily staple is difficult. For which reason, experts in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have said that 1-2 cups of coffee is not harmful to the baby, meaning many women can continue drinking caffeine throughout their pregnancy.
It is generally thought to be safe to consume some caffeine during pregnancy. It does not impede the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby, but the long-term effects of consuming caffeine are still largely unknown.
A new study from Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has found that caffeine consumed during pregnancy can change important brain pathways that could lead to behavioral problems in later life. Researchers analyzed thousands of brain scans of children aged 9 and 10, which demonstrated changes in the brain structure in children who were exposed to caffeine in utero.
What neurological changes can happen?
Researchers have said that women have a biological pathway that looks different when consuming caffeine while pregnant, and these can cause small but noticeable behavioral issues that could make us reconsider caffeine consumption during pregnancy. Some of the effects seen in children whose mothers consumed caffeine are, elevated behavioral issues, attention difficulties, and hyperactivity.
Researchers analyzed over 9,000 brain scans of 9–10-year-olds and found clear changes in their white matter tracts (which are what form connections between brain regions) – whereby, these tracks were organized differently in children whose mothers reported caffeine consumption during the term. That said, researchers have not identified a characteristic biomarker (which is a naturally occurring molecule or gene associated with a particular pathology or physiological process), making it difficult to identify if these behavioral differences are intrinsically due to caffeine or if it could also be related to demographics.
Are these findings significant?
Despite the lack of a characteristic biomarker, previous studies have found negative effects of caffeine during pregnancy. Importantly, the fetus in utero has not developed the enzyme necessary to breakdown caffeine when it crosses the placenta.
The aforementioned study does however establish a long-lasting impact on the neurodevelopment of children. It provides future scientists with some clarity on what to look for, in future studies related to caffeine and pregnancy.
“Caffeine exposure in utero is associated with structural brain alterations and deleterious neurocognitive outcomes in 9–10-year-old children” by John Foxe et al. Neuropharmacology
Online Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0028390821000332?via%3Dihub
Edited by Malavika Ramanand