Does Alcohol in Breast Milk Lower Cognition Rates in Infants and Children?

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics, reports that when mothers consume alcohol during the same period they are breastfeeding newborns could result in lower cognitive scores in their children when they reach age 6 and 7. The study also intimates that these lower cognition scores may correct themselves by the age of 10.

According to the researchers from Macquarie University, in Australia, “This is the first study in which associations between alcohol exposure through breast milk and cognition in children are examined.”

It is important to note that the research suggests there may be an association and does not necessarily prove a correlation.

Still, Cambridge Health Alliance assistant professor of medicine, Dr. Melissa Bartick, comments, “If you have a small effect, to begin with, and it lasts too, say, age 6 or 7, chances are by the time the child gets older, other environmental factors will start to play a bigger role.”

While not involved with the study, Bartick also notes that smoking while breastfeeding did not seem to have any effect on cognition.  Of course, in the study, women who breastfeed tend to smoke fewer cigarettes per day than those who are not pregnant.

She continues, “Just because the authors didn’t find an issue with smoking doesn’t mean mothers should think it’s OK to smoke while breastfeeding. Remember, the authors only looked at one thing, cognition, and there are lots of toxins in tobacco smoke, and smoking around children can cause them lots of harm and just having the smoke on your clothes can be harmful to the health of others, as well as to the mother. Smoking is not good in any circumstance, for baby or mother.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 82% of children, in the United States, have ever breastfed. In this study, though, nearly 92% of children had, at least at some point been breastfed.

Additionally, only about 10% of pregnant women in the US drink alcohol.  This is compared to between 40 and 80% of women in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Obviously, the CDC states that abstaining from consuming alcohol is the safest bet for mothers who are nursing, even though moderate alcohol consumption—which is defined as only one alcoholic beverage per day—has not been shown to be harmful to infants.


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