By Maritza Moulite
Children’s exposure to alcohol through breast milk may cause a comparable drop in their cognitive abilities, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
“This is the first study in which associations between alcohol exposure through breast milk and cognition in children are examined,” the researchers from Macquarie University in Australia wrote in the report.
The authors obtained data from a longitudinal study, a continuous study of data over a period of time, of 5,107 Australian infants who were recruited in 2004 and evaluated every two years until age 11. Their mothers were asked about their alcohol consumption from a modified questionnaire used by the World Health Organization. They were also asked about daily cigarette smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The children were quizzed on their vocabulary, nonverbal reasoning and cognitive processes.
- 5,107 Australian infants were followed for 11 years for the new study
- Higher maternal consumption of alcohol aligned with lower nonverbal reasoning in 6-and 7-year-olds who had breastfed
The researchers also found that an increased maternal consumption of alcohol aligned with lower nonverbal reasoning scores in 6- and 7-year-olds who had breastfed. The same was not found in those who had never breastfed after adjusting for factors such as prenatal alcohol consumption, gender, child and maternal age, breastfeeding duration and birth weight. This lowered cognitive ability was not maintained when the children were assessed at 10 and 11 years old, the authors discovered.
“If you have a small effect to begin with and it lasts to, say, age 6 or 7, chances are by the time the child gets older, other environmental factors will start to play a bigger role,” said Dr. Melissa Bartick, an assistant professor of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study.
The researchers hypothesized that increased education was a possible mediator for the decreased effects of age and alcohol. The size of the relationship between alcohol exposure in breast milk and cognition was small, and they suspected that clinical implications could be limited unless mothers drank a great deal.
Smoking while breastfeeding did not appear to have any effect on cognition, the study found. Women who were breastfeeding tended to smoke fewer cigarettes daily than those who were not: 1.06 cigarettes per day, compared with 2.84.