Coffee Culprit in Cot Death

Press Release
Embargoed: 00.01hrs Tuesday 27 January 1998

Pregnant women drinking four or more cups of coffee a day are potentially putting their babies' lives at risk, warns research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. Sudden infant death - cot death or SIDS as it is also known - was twice as likely to occur among babies whose mothers drank a lot of coffee, tea, or cola every day throughout pregnancy, the research found.

The researchers interviewed the parents of 80 per cent of cot death cases registered with the nationwide New Zealand Cot Death Study and a similar percentage of parents with surviving infants. The results showed that mothers whose babies had died suddenly were twice as likely to be heavy drinkers of coffee, cola, and tea throughout pregnancy as were mothers whose babies were still alive. These results held true even after taking into account other risk factors, such as young age at motherhood, smoking, and bottle feeding.

Previous research has shown that coffee can harm a developing fetus, especially in the last trimester when the mother's ability to rid her system of caffeine is severely reduced. Caffeine intake has also been associated with low birthweight, miscarriage, and withdrawal symptoms in the baby, including breathing difficulties.

The most likely explanation for the link between coffee and cot death, say the authors, is its stimulant effect on the baby's respiratory system. When this effect is withdrawn after birth, the baby's respiratory drive may then be inadequate to withstand infection or other stressors. "The importance of this finding," say the authors, "is that drinking coffee, tea, and cola is a common and easily modifiable behaviour. Mothers, therefore, have the opportunity to alter this risk factor."

Contact: Dr Rodney Ford,
Community Paediatric Unit,
New Zealand.

Tel: 00 64 3 37 95 117;
Fax: 00 64 3 37 95 199

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