Coffee and pregnancy

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Women who are newly pregnant, or trying to be, should reconsider that venti latte. Yale scientists have found that newly pregnant mice given caffeine - at levels equivalent to as little as two cups of coffee a day for a human - had offspring with long-term heart problems and other abnormalities.

The research, coupled with a study last year that linked first-trimester caffeine consumption with an increased risk of miscarriage, has doctors reiterating recommendations that mothers-to-be eliminate or at least sharply curtail their intake of full-strength coffee, tea, soda, or any of the many drinks and foods, such as chocolate, that contain caffeine.

Scott Rivkees, director of Yale's Child Health Research Center, and his colleagues injected pregnant mice with caffeine eight to ten days after conception. (The corresponding period for humans is 20 to 40 days after conception.) When the offspring reached adulthood, Rivkees's team compared them with the offspring of a control group of pregnant mice that hadn't received caffeine. The male offspring had 20 percent more body fat. More alarming still, the hearts of both male and female offspring were 40 percent less efficient at pumping. (The study will appear in April's FASEB Journal.)

Rivkees is planning epidemiological studies of the long-term effects of caffeine consumption in early pregnancy in humans. Meanwhile, he urges women to cut back, particularly in the first trimester.

Surprisingly, though, Rivkees says caffeine may be beneficial when given to infants born prematurely; studies have shown that it can reduce the rate of cerebral palsy by as much as 50 percent. 

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