Caffeine therapy may benefit developing brains of premature babies

Caffeine therapy may benefit developing brains of premature babies
© iStock/romrodinka

Research from the University of Calgary, Canada, shows that the earlier a dose of caffeine therapy is given to premature babies, the better start to life they have.

For many, starting the day off with caffeine is a must. In neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs, premature babies born under 29 weeks are given a daily dose of caffeine to ensure the best possible start to life – so does this mean caffeine therapy is the new trend for baby health?

A daily dose of caffeine therapy

Dr. Abhay Lodha, MD, associate professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine and staff neonatologist with Alberta Health Services, Canada, explains: “Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the NICU after antibiotics.”

“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.”

Lodha conducted a study in 2014 finding that by starting caffeine therapy within two days after birth shortened the amount of time babies needed to use ventilators. It also reduced the risk of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a form of chronic lung disease caused by damage to the lungs from use of a ventilator. However, what was not known was how that dose of caffeine affected brain development.

Nevertheless, recently they found early caffeine treatment has no long-term negative effects on neurodevelopment, and is actually associated with better cognitive scores, and reduced odds of cerebral palsy and hearing impairment.

Premature babies and caffeine therapy

The team examined data from follow-up assessments conducted at age 18 to 24 months. During these follow-ups, children were assessed for their cognitive, language and motor development.

“We look at how children are constructing their understanding, such as solving simple problems or figuring out three-dimensional objects and toys.” adds Dr. Dianne Creighton, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics.

“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.”

Lodha says it’s believed that caffeine may increase the growth of dendrites, the small branches of a neuron that receive signals from other neurons. He concludes: “Caffeine may also improve better lung stretch and expansion, cardiac output and blood pressure in premature infants, which improves oxygen supply throughout the body and brain, reducing the duration of mechanical ventilation and the risk of chronic lung disease and injury on the developing brain.”


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