Prutha H. Patel Carly A. Burow


Introduction: Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy may confer developmental risk to the foetus due to caffeine’s ability to cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) and blood placental barrier (BPB). This literature review investigated caffeine’s properties and mechanism of passage through the BBB and BPB. The subsequent effects of moderate-to-excessive maternal caffeine consumption (≥ 200mg of caffeine daily) on physical development, cognition, and behaviour were further explored.

Methods: The review was conducted using PubMED, NCBI, and Google Scholar, using key terms such as “pregnancy”, “caffeine”, “prenatal”, “adverse effect”, “development”, and “embryo development”. Articles selected were published within the last 15 years (2008-2023) and longitudinal studies, cohort studies, and experimental methods using animal models were included.

Results: It was found prenatal caffeine exposure poses a variety of potential consequences for the infant prior to and after delivery. Notably, physical developmental risks include fetal growth restriction, birth defect(s), and changes in neuronal structure and blood flow. Cognitive and behavioural consequences include possible links to externalizing behaviour problems, decreased intelligence quotient (IQ), attentive deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during childhood.

Discussion: This research is primarily restricted to animal models and cohort studies. Moroever, there were several conflicting conclusions surrounding behavioural and cognitive effects of prenatal caffeine exposure. This drives inquiry into how further research can both solidify causal relationships and be conducted ethically to help inform parents about the potential risks of prenatal caffeine exposure.

Conclusion: With a global trend of increasing caffeine consumption, through coffee, black tea, and recently, matcha, this review provided insight into this ever-growing aspect of our lifestyles. It is paramount to understand the effect of caffeine on foetuses to promote safe and healthy pregnancy outcomes.

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