Infants whose mothers drink an excessive amount of caffeine while pregnant experience side effects and symptoms similar drug withdrawal. Although doctors prescribe small increments of caffeine for newborns with apnea, the length and intensity of exposure for this treatment is not enough to cause addiction or require weaning. Weaning a baby from any stimulant, including caffeine, requires careful monitoring from physicians and the baby's family.
Fetal Caffeine Exposure
Anything you consume while pregnant passes through the uterus to your baby. This means, in addition to receiving nutrients, your baby also ingests any drugs you consume during pregnancy, including caffeine. Like an adult addict, fetuses exposed to high levels of caffeine become dependent on the substance. When the caffeine source is promptly removed at birth, your baby goes into withdrawal. For this reason, the March of Dimes nutritional website recommends consuming no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day while pregnant.
Newborn Caffeine Withdrawal
Within 12 to 24 hours of being born, the lack of caffeine causes an addicted baby to exhibit withdrawal symptoms. Because caffeine increases the heart rate and breathing rate, abruptly removing caffeine from an addicted baby deregulates these vital signs causing arrhythmia and irregular breathing. Behaviorally, babies experiencing caffeine withdrawal exhibit behaviors similar to a caffeine-addicted adult who suddenly stops drinking caffeinated beverages, including irritability and restlessness. The medical process of weaning a baby off caffeine helps reduce these physiological and behavioral symptoms.
Weaning a baby from caffeine is similar to other drug-detox procedures. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Neonatal drug-withdrawal protocol, two options exist for weaning a drug-addicted baby. The first weaning option for a baby addicted to caffeine is administering small doses of caffeine every few hours along with a sedative opioid drug such as morphine. Over a period of one to seven days doctors gradually increase the time between injections and reduce the amount of drugs in each dose. The other weaning process supplies the infant with a constant stream of benzodiazepine and caffeine intravenously for six to nine days. Each day, the amount of drugs is reduced by 10 percent.
Side Effects During Weaning
The intensity and duration of a baby's caffeine exposure determines the severity of side effects during weaning. At the beginning of the weaning process, severely caffeine-addicted babies appear tense, shaky and irritable. Doctors will monitor the infant's heart rate and blood pressure frequently to ensure that the drugs used for weaning are not negatively interacting with each other or destabilizing the baby's vital signs. Once the baby is fully weaned, these side effects decrease significantly but may never disappear completely in especially severe cases.
- Family Education: Pregnancy -- Caffeine, Alcohol, and Pregnancy
- MedlinePlus.org: Black Tea
- Caffeine Awareness: Caffeine Addiction Becomes a National Issue
- Pediatrics -- Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: Neonatal Drug Withdrawal
- The University of Queensland Australia: New Caffeine Treatment for Premature Babies
- March of Dimes: Nutrition -- Caffeine
- National Institute of Health: Arrhythmias