The best remedy for new motherhood is a good old fashioned cup of coffee—but for preemies it can actually be life-saving. New research suggests that caffeine therapy for premature babies is a safe way to help boost lung function and help them survive.
A new study from The University of Calgary has found that caffeine treatment in babies born under 29 weeks has no long-term negative effects on brain development. Caffeine has been in use as a treatment in NICUs, but until now, very little research has been done on the effects of brain development later in life.
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“Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the NICU after antibiotics,” says 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 (AHS). “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.”
The researchers looked at data collected from follow-up assessments on the caffeine-treated preemies conducted at age 18 to 24 months. The toddlers were “assessed for their cognitive, language and motor development using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, a standardized scoring system to assess developmental functioning in infants and toddlers.”
Dr. Lodha says, in addition to the possibility of increasing the growth of the brain’s small branches of a neuron that receive signals from other neurons, “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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