September 9, 2018

Moms-to-Be: Too Much Sugar During Pregnancy Can Hurt Your Child’s Brain Function

Consuming sugar early in childhood also harmful

Moms-to-Be: Too Much Sugar During Pregnancy Can Hurt Your Child's Brain Function

You know you’re not really eating for two. But should you pass on that ice cream and soda?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

The risks of eating too much sugar and its impact on heart health has been well documented. Now, a recent study examined how a pregnant mom’s sugar intake — as well as sugar in early life — can impact a child’s brain function.

Examining sugar consumption

The study looked at data from 1,234 pairs of mothers and children. Pediatric dietitian Jennifer Hyland, RD, did not take part in the study, but says it showed that sugar-sweetened beverages were especially a problem.

“The study was looking at how much sugar, specifically sugar-sweetened beverages, that mom was consuming during pregnancy. And it also looked at young children — how much sugar they were consuming,” she explains. “They found that high sugar intake essentially had a negative impact on their cognitive function in the early childhood years.”

Researchers found that women who had high-sugar diets, including those who drank a lot of diet soda during pregnancy, were more likely to have children with poorer cognitive skills including non-verbal abilities to solve problems and verbal memory.

The same was true for young children who consumed greater amounts of sugar during early life.


Eating fruit with natural sugar, however, was associated with greater visual motor abilities and verbal intelligence.

How sweet is sweet enough?

It’s recommended that children under age of 2 should have no added sugar, Hyland says. Children over age 2 should have no more than 25 grams (or six teaspoons) of added sugar per day.

Hyland says many people don’t realize how easy it is to exceed the daily sugar limit with their children.

Some seemingly healthy items like yogurt, granola and fruit juice can have a lot of added sugar hiding in them, she adds, which is why it’s always a good idea to read nutrition labels thoroughly.

“A lot of fruit juice – even if its natural fruit juice – has a lot of sugar condensed in one place,” says Hyland. “Surprisingly, a cup of fruit juice may have as much sugar as a can of soda.”


Natural sugar (like that found in fresh fruit) doesn’t count against the daily limit, though.

In fact, Hyland says fresh fruit is an important part of a child’s healthy diet and is a good alternative to other foods for a child with a sweet tooth.

“The sugar found naturally in fruit did not have a negative association with cognitive function,” she says. “Fruit is extremely healthy — it has vitamins, minerals, it also has fiber in it, which delays the rise of blood sugar. That’s beneficial for things like weight management and energy level.”

Complete results of the study can be found in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Related Articles

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

pregnant mother with father on couch with son
January 25, 2024
Baby on the Way? Here’s How To Prepare Siblings for Their Arrival

Talk with them about their new sibling early and often

male kid eating celery sticks with peanutbutter at table with homework
January 11, 2024
Snack Attack: 6 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids

Look for snacks that are low in sugar and high in fiber, protein and healthy fats

Pregnant patient lying in dentist chair during examination with dentist beside her
January 1, 2024
Is It Safe To Go to the Dentist While Pregnant?

Dental care is not only safe during pregnancy, but it’s also highly recommended

Young female teen drinking canned beverage outside
December 26, 2023
The Young and the Restless: Why Kids Should Avoid Caffeine

No amount of caffeine is safe for kids under 12, and kids 12 to 17 should be cautious about how much they consume

A closeup of a mix of different kinds of candy, all thrown together.
November 19, 2023
Candy Crush: Why You’re Craving Sweets and How To Stop

Stress, lack of sleep and not eating enough all contribute to sugar hankerings

Person during a consultation with their dietitian.
November 8, 2023
Could You Have a Fructan Intolerance?

A low-FODMAP elimination diet can help identify your symptoms

Pregnant person thinking about food choices as they circle their head.
November 6, 2023
Nutrition During Pregnancy: Foods To Include and Foods To Avoid

A healthy pregnancy diet includes good amounts of folic acid, DHA, calcium and more

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery