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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 14:14 EDT

Pregnant Coffee Drinkers May Increase Baby’s Risk Of Cleft Lip

May 6, 2009

Researchers suggest a possible link between coffee consumption in early pregnancy to a slightly increased risk of having a baby with cleft lip, Reuters reported.

However, Dr. Allen J. Wilcox, one of the scientists involved in the study, told Reuters Health the findings shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

He noted that clefts are a very rare outcome and even if the findings were true it would contribute a very small risk to an individual woman.

“But in fact we don’t really know that it’s true,” he added.

Colleagues in Norway noted in the American Journal of Epidemiology that Norway has a relatively high incidence of cleft lip and cleft palate, at 2.2 children born with the defect for every 1,000 live births.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/National Institutes of Health in Durham, North Carolina carried out the study.

Since Norwegians tend to drink a lot of coffee, the teams investigated the relationship between consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages and orofacial clefts among Norwegians.

Scientists compared data from 573 women who had babies with cleft lip with or without cleft palate or cleft palate alone to 763 women whose children weren’t born with orofacial clefts.

They found that women who drank up to three cups of coffee daily during the first three months of pregnancy were 1.39 times more likely to have a baby with cleft lip with or without cleft palate compared to non-coffee drinkers.

For women who drank three or more cups of coffee a day, the risk was increased 1.59-fold.

Wilcox said having a first-degree relative born with an orofacial cleft increases a person’s own risk of the birth defect about 50-fold.

However, women who drank tea actually had a reduced risk of having a child with an orofacial cleft and there was no link between coffee consumption and cleft palate only.

The study noted that if there is something in coffee that is the culprit, it doesn’t seem to be caffeine.

Wilcox acknowledged that studying the effects of coffee drinking is difficult because coffee consumption is related to many other factors.

For instance, women who drink coffee are more likely to smoke, and their diet is often different than women who don’t drink coffee.

For now women who are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant should focus on lifestyle changes that are of proven benefit to babies such as taking folic acid, Wilcox said.

“And if they smoke, they should quit.”

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