Caffeine in Pregnancy Linked to Child Obesity

Here's yet another reason you may want to get your Starbucks habit under control during pregnancy: It could give your child weight problems when they're older.

Caffeine in Pregnancy Linked to Child Obesity Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

Most women know that, along with alcohol, caffeinated beverages should generally be kicked to the curb once they conceive. Thanks to a powerful study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology back in 2006, the link between caffeine consumption and miscarriage was established. And now, some of the same researchers have determined a similar association between caffeine and obesity in childhood.

The new study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that children born from mothers who drank caffeinated drinks during pregnancy were 89% more likely to be obese than those whose mothers had gone without the stimulant. Plus, the more caffeine mom had, the higher the risk of obesity in the child.

Related: Does Childhood Obesity Start in Pregnancy?

These results make a lot of sense, considering the well-known biological effects of caffeine. "At minimum, it is a neuro-stimulant," study author De-Kun Li, M.D., Ph.D., a physician and researcher at Kaiser Foundation Research Institute and Stanford's school of medicine, told Fit Pregnancy, and animal studies have demonstrated how critically important brain functioning is for "regulating appetite and other metabolic processes." What's more, the stimulant has a detrimental effect on insulin resistance and glucose metabolism.

While there's certainly a correlation between a mother's caffeine drinking and obesity in the child, it cannot be 100% confirmed as the cause. Though the research took into account many potential influencing factors—like pre-pregnancy BMI, preexisting gestational diabetes, smoking during pregnancy and lack of breastfeeding—further analyses are needed before a definite connection can be made.

Related: Can Breastfeeding Spare Your Child from Weight Problems?

This doesn't mean soon-to-be moms should start glugging coffee. Even though new research is frequently touting the potential benefits of caffeine among non-pregnant folks, the risks seem to outweigh those for expectant women. "As far as caffeine use in pregnancy, we do not see benefits," Li stresses. "Instead, we have observed risks both for miscarriage and now childhood obesity."

General medical recommendations on caffeine consumption during pregnancy fall in the 200-300 mg range, which is 1.5-2 cups of coffee per day. Still, pregnancy is a particularly sensitive period in your life, and Li suggests making your own lifestyle decisions based on the new research. If you do wean yourself off caffeine, do it slowly and try decaffeinated coffee.