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Boozing mothers affect babies’ response to pain: Study
Prenatal exposure to alcohol dulls the pain response in babies, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia.
The research, which will be published in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed that even healthy babies whose mothers drank while they were pregnant were affected by the alcohol.
The tests were done in a region of South Africa where 11 per cent of children have fetal alcohol syndrome — compared to the Canadian rate of 0.9 per cent.
UBC pediatrics professor Dr. Tim Oberlander and co-researchers from B.C., Michigan and South Africa determined the pain response by pricking the babies’ heels and squeezing to collect drops of blood — standard screening tests for metabolic diseases including hypothyroidism.
Infants whose mothers consumed at least 14 drinks per week while pregnant or had been binge drinking before delivery did not react to the pain the way babies born to a control group of non-drinking moms did.
The researchers catalogued the babies’ heart rate, facial grimacing and other measures of pain.
“This study is the first to document a relationship between prenatal alcohol exposure and biobehavioural responses to a noxious event in human newborns,” the researchers said in a statement. They added that how the infants react to pain may put them at a risk for problems later in life.
Previously studies have shown that as adults, people with fetal alcohol syndrome have increased anxiety, depression and aggression and altered responses to stress. Yet as infants, as shown by the current study, they have a dulled response.
The $40,000 study was funded by the UBC Child and Family Research Institute, Wayne State University and the state of Michigan.
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