Effects of consuming sugars and alternative sweeteners during pregnancy on maternal and child health: evidence for a secondhand sugar effect

Proc Nutr Soc. 2019 Aug;78(3):262-271. doi: 10.1017/S002966511800263X. Epub 2018 Dec 3.


Consumption of sugar and alternative low- or no-energy sweeteners has increased in recent decades. However, it is still uncertain how consumption of sugar and alternative sweeteners during pregnancy affects pregnancy outcomes and long-term offspring health. This review aims to collate the available evidence surrounding the consequences of sugar and alternative sweetener consumption during pregnancy, a so-called secondhand sugar effect. We found evidence that sugar consumption during pregnancy may contribute to increased gestational weight gain and the development of pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and preterm birth. Further, we found a growing body of the animal and human evidence that maternal sugar intake during pregnancy may impact neonatal and childhood metabolism, taste perception and obesity risk. Emerging evidence also suggests that both maternal and paternal preconception sugar intakes are linked to offspring metabolic outcomes, perhaps via epigenetic alterations to the germline. While there have been fewer studies of the impacts of alternative sweetener consumption before and during pregnancy, there is some evidence to suggest effects on infant outcomes including preterm birth risk, increased infant body composition and offspring preference for sweet foods, although mechanisms are unclear. We conclude that preconception and gestational sugar and alternative sweetener consumption may negatively impact pregnancy outcomes and offspring health and that there is a need for further observational, mechanistic and intervention research in this area.

Keywords: GDM gestational diabetes mellitus; Alternative sweeteners; Artificial sweeteners; Infant health; Obesity; Preconception; Pregnancy; Sugar.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child Health*
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Sugars*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Health
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Sweetening Agents*


  • Dietary Sugars
  • Sweetening Agents