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Caffeine therapy for premature babies shows no negative long-term effects: U of C research

The follow up to a 2014 study by a University of Calgary researcher showing significant benefit to preemies given caffeine in their first two days, indicates no long-term negative effects on the child’sdevelopment – and it may actually improve cognitive development.

Dr. Abhay Lodha, MD, an associate professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the U of C’s Cumming School of Medicine and staff neonatologist with Alberta Health Services, did the original study and followed up in collaboration with the Universities of British Columbia, Montreal, Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and analyzed data from 26 NICUs across the country.

They assessed data from follow ups on toddlers aged 18 to 24 months, where children were tested for language and motor development using a standardized scoring system.

“We look at how children are constructing their understanding, such as solving simple problems or figuringout three-dimensional objects and toys,” said Dr. Dianne Creighton, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics and retired psychologist with AHS, in a prepared release.

“We also assess how the little ones are able to understand simple words, or recognize the name of a picture, as well as their motor skills like climbing, crawling, balance and co-ordination.”

The findings of the follow up research, published in Pediatrics medical journal, showed that there were no long term negative effects on brain development. It actually resulted in better cognitive testing scores and reduced the odds of cerebral palsy and hearing impairment, researchers said.

“Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the NICU after antibiotics,” said Dr. Lodha.

“It’s important that we understand the long-term effects of caffeine as a treatment and ensure these babies are not only surviving, but have quality of life down the road.”

In the original 2014 study, babies born earlier than 29 weeks started caffeine therapy within two days after birth. Those results showed it shortened the amount of time those preemies needed to be on a ventilator and therefore reduced the risk of bronchopulmonarydysplasia (BPD), a form of chronic lung disease caused by damage to the lungs from use of a ventilator.

At that time, they didn’t know the long term effect of caffeine on brain development.