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Premature Babies’ Brains Benefit From Caffeine In First Few Days Of Life

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While caffeine has been a lifesaver for many sleep-deprived parents, it's also being proven to help brain function in premature babies. While it may seem odd to give premature baby caffeine, a study done out of the University of Calgary is showing that caffeine not only aids in the development of lung function, but it is also beneficial to brain development in children born prematurely.

Dr. Abhay Lodha is the lead researcher of the study and commented in a news release about the frequent use of caffeine for preemies. "Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the NICU after antibiotics," Dr. Lodha said. "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 the quality of life down the road." In fact, the study found that giving preemies caffeine "as early as possible within the first few hours of life" does have numerous benefits while not causing any long-term negative effects.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, showed that the neonates involved in the study who were given early caffeine administration fared better in terms of brain function and lung function as well as cognitive development than those who were given caffeine 2 days after birth. Lodha began the study to see what the long-term effects were on NICU patients who were given caffeine."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," Lodha added.

Although caffeine has shown to have numerous benefits for NICU babies, Lodha also stressed that caffeine should not be given to otherwise healthy infants and children.

"Caffeine should be used in premature babies prone to have breathing issues. In this situation caffeine is ideal, but we can't recommend giving this to full-term babies. They don't need it, and there are side-effects such as disruption of sleep and increased heart rate," said Lodha.

The study looked at data from 26 different neonatal intensive care units in hospitals across Canada between 2009 and 2011. It analyzed the information provided in the following assessments of the children done between the ages of 18 and 24 months and found that "early caffeine therapy is associated with better neurodevelopmental outcomes compared with late caffeine therapy in preterm infants born at <29 weeks’ gestation."

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