Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Consuming Alcohol While Breastfeeding May Lead to Cognitive Problems in Children

Women who drink alcohol while breastfeeding may be more likely to have children with reduced cognitive abilities than women who do not drink alcohol while breastfeeding, according to a study in Pediatrics. This reduction was observed in children at ages 6 to 7 years but was not sustained at ages 10 to 11.

“Although the relationship is small, it may be clinically significant when mothers consume alcohol regularly or binge drink,” Louisa Gibson and Melanie Porter, Ph.D., of Macquarie University in Australia wrote.

Gibson and Porter analyzed data from a longitudinal study of Australian children and their families. They specifically focused on a group of 5,107 infants and their caregivers, who were recruited in 2004 and assessed every two years. At the initial assessment (wave 1), mothers were asked about whether they breastfed or not, how often and how much they drank alcohol, and how many cigarettes they smoked. At the later assessments, the children received cognitive and developmental tests (including a school readiness test at wave 3; a vocabulary test at waves 3, 4, and 5; and a reasoning test at waves 4, 5, and 6).

The study revealed that children aged 6 to 7 whose mothers reported consuming alcohol while breastfeeding had lower scores on the reasoning test than children whose mothers did not report consuming alcohol while breastfeeding—a relationship the authors noted was not observed in children who were not breastfed as infants. “This suggests that alcohol exposure through breastmilk was responsible for cognitive reductions in breastfed infants rather than psychosocial or environmental factors surrounding maternal alcohol consumption,” Gibson and Porter reported. In contrast, children who were breastfed by mothers who smoked cigarettes scored similarly on the cognitive tests to those who were breastfed by mothers who did not smoke cigarettes.

In an accompanying editorial, Lauren M. Jansson, M.D., director of pediatrics at the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy at Johns Hopkins, noted that postnatal exposure to alcohol through breast milk could compound deficits resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure. “Although findings in this study were independent of prenatal alcohol consumption, pregnancy alcohol use was recorded by maternal self-report retrospectively, and there are often multiple psychosocial and other pressures for women to deny gestational substance use. A mother who uses alcohol while breastfeeding may have a current alcohol use disorder and be more likely to provide insensitive handling of her child or to have problems with self-regulation, impulsivity, impaired judgment, and the ability to make safe choices for herself and/or her child.”

For related information, see The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, Fifth Edition, by APA Publishing.

(Image: iStock/Steve Debenport)


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