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Can artificial sweeteners in pregnancy make your baby overweight?

Every few weeks it seems some study comes out that shows that drinking something or eating something or being exposed to something can cause problems in pregnancy or your developing baby. Often, these studies are small or show that only the extreme (taking Tylenol daily for more than half your pregnancy, for example) has an effect.

Well, we’ve got another study to add to the pile, and this time it’s about artificial sweeteners.

In a study of about 3,000 mom/baby pairs, daily consumption of sugar substitutes by the mom in pregnancy led to a two-fold increase chance that the babies would be overweight by 12 months of age.

Put another way: women who drank the equivalent of a diet soda daily (and that was about 30 percent of the women in this study) had double the chance of having an overweight 1-year-old.

Does this mean that you should toss all your Splenda out the window and never have a single sweetened ice tea? Definitely not. This increase in infants being overweight was only seen when the moms reported consuming artificial sweeteners daily. That means every single day. That’s quite a lot of sugar substituting going on!

Does this study tell us what is a safe level of artificial sweeteners to consume in pregnancy? Unfortunately, no. But based on this, daily is probably not the way to go. And much like anything — like that Tylenol study I mentioned before — pretty much anything in excess is no good.

I also think this study is interesting because it may be that part of the issue is that these women who were essentially drinking diet soda everyday were missing out on other healthy foods and drinks. Maybe they were filling up on soda instead of reaching for a glass of water or a piece of fruit.

If you are looking to sweeten your coffee or iced tea and happen to be pregnant, occasional artificial sweetener use is probably OK. So is good, old-fashioned sugar! Again, it’s all about moderation (however, if you have gestational diabetes, be sure to talk to your doctor or nutritionist before going back to using sugar in everything!).

If you are looking to satisfy your sweet tooth when it comes to drinking water or tea, try alternatives like water infused with lemon or mint, or brewing some decaffeinated herbal tea in the refrigerator overnight and enjoying a subtly sweet beverage the next day — with no sugar (or worry) added.

If you are pregnant and have already been consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners, you might want to consider cutting back so it isn’t a daily thing. Like everything in life, moderation is key.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

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