A Diet Soda Habit in Pregnancy Could Make Your Baby Overweight

You know that diet sodas aren't exactly good for you—but they may affect your children in ways you probably never imagined.

Woman drinking soda from a straw photoagent/Shutterstock
We have a strange relationship to artificial sweeteners in this country. One the one hand, there's plenty of evidence to support the fact that these chemical sweeteners can cause a whole host of health problems. On the other hand, people tend to believe they can drink diet sodas or eat sugar-free snacks without gaining weight, as these items tend to be less caloric.

But recent research gives us one more reason to avoid artificial sweeteners: According to the findings, consuming fake sugar during pregnancy can increase your infant's chances of being overweight.

These findings refer to daily maternal consumption of the sweeteners, so you may be fine indulging in artificial sweeteners occasionally—you just might not want it to become a regular thing. The study of 2,413 mother-infant pairs found infants of mothers who had too many artificially sweetened beverages had a twofold increased risk for becoming overweight.

"To our knowledge, our results provide the first human evidence that artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy may increase the risk of early childhood overweight," the researchers write. They note that more than half of Americans report consumption of the drinks in which nonnutritive sweeteners have replaced sugar.

The mothers who were observed completed questionnaires during pregnancies reporting their consumption of artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs)—5.1 percent of the women surveyed consumed ASBs daily as compared to 23.4 percent who consumer sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) daily. Now, sugar isn't exactly great for maintaining a healthy weight either but the women who consumed ASBs had children with the highest BMIs of all surveyed.

"We view the findings of Azad et. al. as preliminary," Mark A. Pereira, Ph.D., and Matthew W. Gillman, M.D., said said of the study in an accompanying editorial. "They did not address the question of substituting ASBs for SSBs, which themselves—perhaps surprisingly—were not associated with the outcomes."

With that being said, this is a topic that needs to be studied further. It's unclear why artificial sweeteners might affect a child's weight when consumed by the mother, but whatever the case, you should definitely not be drinking ASBs regularly. They're just not doing you any favors.

Update: A more recent study published in International Journey of Epidemiology also suggests this association. To come to this finding, researchers looked at data from more than 91,000 women in Denmark who reported their dietary habits. According to their results, mothers who drank artificially sweetened beverages every day and had gestational diabetes gave birth to babies with increased risk of becoming obese in childhood. Again, researchers are unsure why this relationship might exist.

"Our findings suggest that artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later childhood obesity than sugar-sweetened beverages," study senior author, Cuilin Zhang, Ph.D., said in a release for the news. "Not surprisingly, we also observed that children born to women who drank water instead of sweetened beverages were less likely to be obese by age seven."