Is Mom’s Soda Habit During Pregnancy Impairing Baby’s Brain?

As has been related on our site several times, there is just nothing good about sodas. The added sugar or artificial sweeteners affect our metabolism and neurological system, the carbonation and acidity can damage our bones and gastrointestinal tract, and added caffeine and chemicals do our bodies no favors. Yet, many people still drink them regularly.

And as bad as they are for just the average person, they may be even more detrimental for women who are pregnant. More specifically, to the little person they are supporting inside of them! According to recent research, mom’s soda habit may be having an early negative effect on their child’s eventual memory and learning skills, setting them up for disadvantages where proper brain function is important (like, everyday life!).

High sugar intake was the underlying issue as the driving force of the changes, but the research study, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked primarily at an association with soda consumption. One benchmark, set by The American Heart Association, states that sugar intake should be kept below 25 grams (100 calories) daily for women and children. As an example, a teaspoon of table sugar contains 4 grams, but many foods have sources of added sugar that makes this level too easy to surpass. For the pregnant moms in the study, their daily sugar intake ranged between 120 to 200 calories.

What the study found was that the expectant mothers who consumed more sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened sodas, had children with:

  • Poorer nonverbal problem-solving abilities
  • Lower verbal memory
  • Poorer global intelligence scores associated with verbal knowledge and non-verbal skills

Now, don’t think substituting diet sodas will make things much better. Women who consumed these while pregnant had children who demonstrated:

  • By age 3, poorer fine motor, visual, spatial and visual motor abilities
  • By age 7, lower verbal abilities

And when the children started adding in the sugar themselves, they demonstrated more learning and memory difficulties, which has been confirmed in many other studies as well. Sugar just wreaks havoc on the body and brain, mainly from an inflammatory standpoint. In relation to this study, it’s likely having an effect on the neurotransmitters that help nerve cells communicate with each other, which has been shown in animal studies.

Those effects are probably more pronounced in the children that have been exposed to more during pregnancy, while their brains are still developing. But regardless of the timing, it’s clear that sugar needs to be limited to less than what the average person’s diet contains. And while the study focused on sodas, it should be understood that sugar in total is the culprit in these effects.

We work with our patients to build not only a healthy diet that limits sugar, but one that is free of unhealthy added sugars (hidden and obvious) and other harmful non-food additions. Education is important not only for adults and parents, but also for children so that they can develop optimal eating habits and never develop some of the problems that come from years of poor dietary choices.

So, come on moms (and moms-to-be!), give the kids a chance and start working now to break the soda and sugar habits!