Human studies that have investigated the association between caffeine intake during pregnancy and offspring’s behavioral outcomes are scant and inconclusive. We prospectively investigated the association between maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and children’s problem behavior at age 5 to 6 years. Mediation by fetal growth restriction and gestational age as well as effect modification by the child’s gender and maternal smoking was tested.
In a community based multiethnic birth cohort, dietary caffeine intake (coffee, caffeinated tea, and cola) was measured (maternal self-report, n = 8202) around the 16th week of gestation. At age 5, children’s overall problem behavior, emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention problems, peer relationship problems, and prosocial behavior were rated by both mother and teacher (n = 3439) with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Analyses were adjusted for maternal age, ethnicity, cohabitant status, education, smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy, child’s gender, family size, and prenatal maternal anxiety.
Caffeine intake was not associated with a higher risk for behavior problems or with suboptimal prosocial behavior. No evidence was found for mediation by fetal growth restriction or gestational age, nor for effect modification by the child’s gender.
Results did not provide evidence for developmental programming influences of intrauterine exposure to caffeine on offspring’s problem behavior at age 5. Present results give no indication to advise pregnant women to reduce their caffeine intake to prevent behavior problems in their children.