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November 3, 2008

Small Amounts Of Caffeine Can Cause Low Birth Weight

New research released on Monday suggests that pregnant women who consume more than a cup of coffee a day risk a higher chance of giving birth to an underweight baby.

The research showed that any source of caffeine, including tea, cola, chocolate and some prescription drugs, is linked to relatively slower fetal growth.

U.S. researchers said in January that pregnant women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are at twice the risk of having a miscarriage as those women who avoid caffeine.

Researchers from the University of Leicester as well as collaborators from the University of Leeds looked at 2,645 women at an average age of 30 who were between 8 and 12 weeks pregnant and examined the association of maternal caffeine intake and individual caffeine metabolism on birth weight.

The study showed that women who drank one to two cups of coffee daily, or between 100-199 milligrams, had a 20 percent increased risk of having a baby of low birth weight compared to women who consumed less than 100 milligrams daily.

Justin Konje, the study's leader, said caffeine consumption during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction and this association continued throughout pregnancy.

"Sensible advice would be to reduce caffeine intake before conception and throughout pregnancy."

The Food Standards Agency's chief scientist Andrew Wadge said it was "new advice but these are not new risks".

"I want to reassure women that if you're pregnant and have been following the previous advice, the risk is likely to be small."

The study suggests that the impact was about the same as from alcohol and the association with low birth weight was maintained throughout a woman's pregnancy.

But Konje said even small amounts may prove harmful and the best advice was to limit caffeine consumption to below 100 milligrams a day.

"My advice is if possible to reduce caffeine intake to a minimum. You have to be realistic because you can't ask people to stop taking caffeine."

Pregnant women should be advised to reduce their intake of caffeine, but must not replace it with unhealthy alternatives such as alcoholic drinks or soft drinks full of sugar.

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