May 17, 2006

Newborns who get caffeine may need less oxygen later

BOSTON (Reuters) - Very small newborns who receive caffeine
to help their lungs develop are less likely to need additional
oxygen by the age of 3, a study published in this week's New
England Journal of Medicine has found.

Most babies born less than 34 weeks after conception
periodically stop breathing for at least 15 seconds, suffering
a condition known as apnea of prematurity.

Caffeine is already widely prescribed for premature infants
because of its ability to stimulate breathing. It is also given
when the babies are weaned off ventilators.

But scientists have not compiled much data to judge how
safe this is over the long term. The new study was designed to
assess the practice's longer-term effects.

The team, led by Barbara Schmidt of McMaster University in
Hamilton, Ontario, found that 36 percent of the 963 premature
babies who received caffeine during the first 10 days of life
were also given supplemental oxygen.

More babies who received a placebo instead of the caffeine
generally needed the extra oxygen, the researchers said. Their
study found that 47 percent of the 954 infants who received a
placebo also received supplemental oxygen.

In addition, the babies who received caffeine were taken
off ventilators one week sooner, on average, than babies who
received the placebo, the study found.

The only apparent side effect is that infants who received
the caffeine gained less weight than babies who were given the
placebo. However that drawback disappeared after three weeks.

"Except for a temporary reduction in weight gain, caffeine
has no apparent short-term risks," the researchers concluded.