No research can definitively prove what level of caffeine is safe in pregnancy because scientists won't ethically test drugs or supplements in women when there's a potential to harm mothers or their babies. At age 3 years and 5 years, any in utero exposure to caffeine was associated with higher risk of overweight. But children of women who consumed the most caffeine during pregnancy were 66 percent more likely to be slightly overweight, researchers found.
The authors said that their work supports advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy.
Most health authorities suggest that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake since, after ingestion, caffeine is readily absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to the tissues.
Sources of caffeine included coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads; and desserts, cakes, and candies. This risk increased for children born to mothers reporting high caffeine intake (OR = 1.3; 95% CI, 1.16-1.45) and very high caffeine intake (OR = 1.66; 95% CI, 1.42-1.93).
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While caffeine is mostly associated with hot drinks, it can also be found in other products including energy drinks, some cans of pop and chocolate bars.
For more on caffeine and pregnancy, visit the March of Dimes.
Lead author Dr Papadopoulou and colleagues said this prompted them to consider if mothers-to-be should cut out the world's most popular beverage altogether.
Dr Clovis Palmet, Senior Monash University Fellow and Burnet Institute head of immunometabolism and inflammation, said: "The researchers provided no evidence of a causal link between prenatal exposure to caffeine and early childhood obesity".
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Previous research has linked caffeine intake to a heightened risk of miscarriage and restricted foetal growth. Once the mothers hit 22 weeks of pregnancy, they were asked to detail their food and drink intake, including their caffeine intake.
Around half (46 per cent) of pregnant women were considered to have low caffeine consumption - less than 50mg a day; A further 44 per cent had a moderate level of consumption - classed as between 50 and 199mg a day; 7 per cent had high levels of consumption of between 200mg and 299mg a day and 3 per cent had very high levels of over 300mg.
The study found the women who consumed a higher level of caffeine were more likely to be over 30, already have one child, consume more daily calories and smoke during pregnancy. Researchers assessed infant weight gain by calculating the difference in sex-adjusted World Health Organization weight-for-age z scores between birth and age 1 year, using reported weights, and determined childhood overweight, including obesity, at two time points at ages 3 and 5 years and once at age 8 years.
They were split into four groups depending on intake including "low" (0-49 mg), "average" (50-199 mg), "high" ( 200-299 mg) and "very high" (300 + mg) intake.
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"It's likely that caffeine is not good for you, especially in high doses", he said.