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Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy is associated with birth weight but not with gestational length: results from a large prospective observational cohort study

Verena Sengpiel1*, Elisabeth Elind2, Jonas Bacelis1, Staffan Nilsson3, Jakob Grove4, Ronny Myhre5, Margaretha Haugen2, Helle Margrete Meltzer2, Jan Alexander6, Bo Jacobsson15 and Anne-Lise Brantsæter2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Sahlgrenska Academy, Sahlgrenska University Hospital/Östra, SE-416 85 Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Department of Exposure and Risk Assessment, Division of Environmental Medicine, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, NO-0403 Oslo, Norway

3 Mathematical Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology, SE-412 96 Gothenburg, Sweden

4 Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University, Wilhelm Meyers Allé 4, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark, and Bioinformatics Research Centre (BiRC), Aarhus University, CF Møllers Allé 8, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

5 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Department of Genes and Environment, Division of Epidemiology, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, NO-0403 Oslo, Norway

6 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Office of the Director-General, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, NO-0403 Oslo, Norway

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Citation and License

BMC Medicine 2013, 11:42  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-42

Published: 19 February 2013



Pregnant women consume caffeine daily. The aim of this study was to examine the association between maternal caffeine intake from different sources and (a) gestational length, particularly the risk for spontaneous preterm delivery (PTD), and (b) birth weight (BW) and the baby being small for gestational age (SGA).


This study is based on the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. A total of 59,123 women with uncomplicated pregnancies giving birth to a live singleton were identified. Caffeine intake from different sources was self-reported at gestational weeks 17, 22 and 30. Spontaneous PTD was defined as spontaneous onset of delivery between 22+0 and 36+6 weeks (n = 1,451). As there is no consensus, SGA was defined according to ultrasound-based (Marsal, n = 856), population-based (Skjaerven, n = 4,503) and customized (Gardosi, n = 4,733) growth curves.


The main caffeine source was coffee, but tea and chocolate were the main sources in women with low caffeine intake. Median pre-pregnancy caffeine intake was 126 mg/day (IQR 40 to 254), 44 mg/day (13 to 104) at gestational week 17 and 62 mg/day (21 to 130) at gestational week 30. Coffee caffeine, but not caffeine from other sources, was associated with prolonged gestation (8 h/100 mg/day, P <10-7). Neither total nor coffee caffeine was associated with spontaneous PTD risk. Caffeine intake from different sources, measured repeatedly during pregnancy, was associated with lower BW (Marsal-28 g, Skjaerven-25 g, Gardosi-21 g per 100 mg/day additional total caffeine for a baby with expected BW 3,600 g, P <10-25). Caffeine intake of 200 to 300 mg/day increased the odds for SGA (OR Marsal 1.62, Skjaerven 1.44, Gardosi 1.27, P <0.05), compared to 0 to 50 mg/day.


Coffee, but not caffeine, consumption was associated with marginally increased gestational length but not with spontaneous PTD risk. Caffeine intake was consistently associated with decreased BW and increased odds of SGA. The association was strengthened by concordant results for caffeine sources, time of survey and different SGA definitions. This might have clinical implications as even caffeine consumption below the recommended maximum (200 mg/day in the Nordic countries and USA, 300 mg/day according to the World Health Organization (WHO)) was associated with increased risk for SGA.

preterm delivery; gestational length; small for gestational age; birth weight; growth curve; intrauterine growth restriction; caffeine; coffee; tea; soft drinks