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Premature Babies’ Brains Benefit From Caffeine in First Few Days of Life

"Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the NICU after antibiotics.”
ByStephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
December 13, 2018
coffee beans in canister, study shows they caffeine can help preemies
Image: iStock

For many, a cup of coffee is a must in order to start the day off on the right foot. For premature babies, a dose of caffeine is a beneficial way to start their lives, a new study says.

Previously, a 2014 study by Abhay Lodha, MD, staff neonatologist with Alberta Health Services (AHS), showed starting caffeine therapy within two days after birth shortened the amount of time babies needed to use ventilators. In turn, it also reduced the risk of a developing a chronic lung disease caused by damage to the lungs from use of a ventilator. Up until now, however, it wasn’t known how the dose of caffeine affected the babies’ brain development.

“Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the NICU after antibiotics,” says Lodha. “It’s important that we understand the long-term effects of caffeine as a treatment, and ensure these babies are not only surviving, but have quality of life down the road.”

The new study published in the journal Pediatrics looks at data collected from thousands of toddlers from Canada who had been treated with caffeine as babies. The children were assessed for their language, cognitive and motor development skills. The researchers found no negative effects on brain development, and the babies treated with caffeine in the first few days of life did better cognitively than premature babies who were a few days old by the time they had caffeine.

That said, Lodha wants to stress that caffeine is not for healthy babies.

"Caffeine should be used in premature babies prone to have breathing issues. In this situation caffeine is ideal, but we can’t recommend giving this to full-term babies,” says Lodha. “They don’t need it and there are side-effects, such as disruption of sleep and increased heart rate.”

The next question you probably have is—Can you drink coffee while you’re pregnant? Although you’ll likely have to cut down your daily intake, you can still treat yourself to a few sips. Here’s how much coffee doctors recommend while you’re carrying baby.

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