Premature Caffeination

Caffeine therapy for preemies has no long term benefit

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For many Americans, a jolt of caffeine is a crucial part of a morning regimen. Some babies need caffeine too, as it can help preemies who suffer from a special breathing problem.

However, a new study shows that the benefits of caffeine therapy lessen with time.

Previous studies had reported that babies given caffeine to treat a breathing problem called "apnea of prematurity" had reduced rates of death, cerebral palsy and other disability by 18 months to almost two years of age.

But according to this new study, the benefits of caffeine therapy disappear after five years.

"Talk to your doctor about caffeine therapy for your preterm baby."

Dr. Barbara Schmidt, of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and her colleagues looked at 1,640 children from 2005 to 2011, and found that caffeine-treated children did not have a lower rate of death or disability by age 5. Children born very prematurely often suffer death or disability.

Babies born very prematurely (with very low birth weight) don’t have fully developed lungs and a central nervous system. Many develop apnea of prematurity, which occurs when an infant stops breathing for 15-20 seconds during sleep.

In the study, researchers gave caffeine to 833 children, while 807 received a placebo. The children were born weighing 1.2 to 2.8 pounds at an average of 27 weeks’ gestation.

After five years, both groups had roughly equal rates of death, motor impairment, cognitive impairment, behavior problems, poor health, deafness, and blindness: 21% in the caffeine group and 24.8% in the placebo group, the study reports.

Also, in both groups, children were more likely to suffer cognitive impairment at 18 months of age compared to age 5, which suggests that children who have cognitive delay at 18 months can improve by age 5, according to the researchers.

Researchers from hospitals in Canada, Australia, Europe and Israel conducted this observational study, published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Review Date: 
January 19, 2012
Last Updated:
January 22, 2012