The Scoop on Food

Sugary Drinks During Pregnancy May Increase Baby's Risk for Asthma

A new study links soda, fruit drinks, and even juice to the lung disease in kids. Here are the must-know facts.

Woman Holding Glass of Soda Antonio Ovejero Diaz/Shutterstock

You already know that alcohol is off-limits during pregnancy, but a new study makes a case for avoiding sugary drinks like soda too.

In a study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, researchers looked at women's beverage intake during their first and second trimesters of pregnancy. They found that a higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages during this time increased the chances of their child developing asthma by age 8.

Women who drank the most sugary drinks had a 70 percent higher chance of having a child with asthma compared to those who drank the least amount. That held true regardless of the woman's body mass, age, or race.

The researchers also looked at beverage consumption in early childhood and found that kids who took in the most fructose (from fruit juice, fruit drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages) in the first few years of life had a nearly 80 percent higher risk of having asthma later in childhood.

Rates of asthma are on the rise in the U.S. Though the causes aren't fully understood, this isn't the first time that sugar and sweetened drinks have been examined as possible culprits. Previous research has shown that higher intakes of sugar during pregnancy were associated with increased risk of allergies and allergic asthma in children. In other research, high school students who drank more soda had a greater chance of having asthma compared to those who didn't drink it.

What's the connection? It could be that sweetened beverages increase the risk of obesity and overweight, both of which can restrict the airways and up the risk for asthma. It's also speculated that fructose itself—found in high concentration in fruit juice as well as in sugar and sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup—may cause inflammation of the lungs.

Pregnancy and early childhood are both considered critical life stages for immune system and lung development, note the researchers.

But before you beat yourself up about the occasional sodas you've already had or the juice your child just drank, keep these things in mind: First, this study doesn't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Second, the women in the study with the highest intakes were drinking multiple sugary drinks a day, not a sweetened drink here and there—and the children with the highest intakes were getting an average of four servings of juice and sweet drinks a day.

And remember that there are concrete steps you can take that help prevent asthma in your child, such as breastfeeding for at least 4-6 months and not smoking during pregnancy or exposing your child to second-hand smoke, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

Yet it's also a good reminder that limiting sugary drinks is an overall smart move for all stages of life. And yes, that does include 100 percent juice. The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated guidelines on juice consumption that recommend avoiding juice for babies and serving no more than a half cup of juice to children ages 1-3.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.