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Alcohol. 2001 Nov;25(3):153-8.

Sleep disturbances after acute exposure to alcohol in mothers' milk.

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Monell Chemical Senses Center, 3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3308, USA.


The results of previous research in our laboratory revealed that breast-fed infants experience significantly less active sleep after exposure to alcohol in their mothers' milk than do breast-fed infants not exposed to alcohol. The present study tested the hypothesis that infants would compensate for such reductions if their mothers then refrained from drinking alcohol. To this end, 23 breast-fed infants from 3 to 5 months of age and their mothers were tested on 2 days separated by 1 week. A small, computerized movement detector, an actigraph, was placed on the infants' left ankles to monitor sleep and activity patterning after which they were bottle fed mother's milk alone (control condition) on 1 test day and mother's milk containing 32 mg of ethanol per 100 ml--the average concentration detected in human milk after lactating women drank an acute dose (0.3 g/kg) of alcohol--on the other. The infants' behaviors were monitored for the next 24 h; the first 3.5 h of monitoring on each test day took place at the Monell Center. Consistent with previous findings, infants exhibited significantly less active sleep during the 3.5 h immediately after exposure to alcohol in mothers' milk compared with the control condition; the decrease in active sleep was observed in all but 4 of the infants tested. Compensatory increases in active sleep were then observed in the next 20.5 h, when mothers refrained from drinking alcohol. Although the mechanisms underlying the reduction in sleep remain to be elucidated, these findings demonstrate that short-term exposure to small amounts of alcohol in mothers' milk produces distinctive changes in the infants' sleep-wake patterning.

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