Potential teratogenic and neurodevelopmental consequences of coffee and caffeine exposure: a review on human and animal data

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Nov-Dec 1994;16(6):531-43. doi: 10.1016/0892-0362(94)90032-9.


The teratogenic effect of caffeine has been clearly demonstrated in rodents. The sensitivity of different animals species is variable. Malformations have been demonstrated in mice at 50-75 mg/kg of caffeine, whereas the lowest dose usually needed to induce malformations is 80 mg/kg in rats. However, when caffeine is administered in fractioned amounts during the day, 330 mg/kg/day are necessary to reach teratogenicity in rats. In rodents, the most frequently observed malformations are those of the limbs and digits, ectrodactyly, craniofacial malformations (labial and palatal clefts) and delays in ossification of limbs, jaw and sternum. Nevertheless, even in rodents, caffeine can be considered as a weak teratogenic agent, given the quite large quantities of caffeine necessary to induce malformations and the small number of animals affected. In humans, caffeine does not present any teratogenic risk. The increased risk of the most common congenital malformations entailed by moderate consumption of caffeine is very slight. However, caffeine potentiates the teratogenic effect of other substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, and acts synergistically with ergotamine and propranolol to induce materno-fetal vasoconstrictions leading to malformations induced by ischemia. Therefore, even though caffeine does not seem to be harmful to the human fetus when intake is moderate and spread out over the day, some associations, especially with alcohol, tobacco, and vasoconstrictive or anti-migraine medications should be avoided. Maternal consumption of caffeine affects brain composition, especially in case of a low-protein diet and also seems to interfere with zinc fixation in brain. Maternal exposure to caffeine induces also long-term consequences on sleep, locomotion, learning abilities, emotivity, and anxiety in rat offspring, whereas in humans, more studies are needed to ascertain long-term behavioral effects of caffeine ingestion by pregnant mothers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / etiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior / drug effects
  • Caffeine / adverse effects*
  • Caffeine / metabolism
  • Caffeine / toxicity
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development
  • Coffee / adverse effects*
  • Coffee / toxicity
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Teratogens / toxicity*


  • Coffee
  • Neurotoxins
  • Teratogens
  • Caffeine