Alcohol and the amount people drink is the frequent focus of medical studies. However, studying alcohol consumption often results in mixed findings. For example, while drinking too much alcohol can result in liver disease and high blood pressure, other studies have shown that a glass of beer or wine a day can help people live longer. [Related reading: Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding: new study shows possible child cognitive development impact] Now a new study suggests people who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have a heightened risk of dementia later in life. The long-term study, which tracked the health of more than 9,000 civil servants in London, found that middle-aged people who drank over the recommended alcohol limit each week and those who abstained completely were more likely to develop dementia. Specifically, abstinence in midlife was associated with a 45% greater risk of developing dementia compare to people who drank between one and 14 units of alcohol per week. But before you reach for a glass of wine, it should be noted that early life alcohol consumption was not taken into account for the study. People who are teetotal in midlife may have a history of heavy alcohol consumption in their younger years. Indeed, Dr Sara Imarisio, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “As this study only looked at people’s drinking in midlife, we don’t know about their drinking habits earlier in adulthood, and it is possible that this may contribute to their later life dementia risk.” The results of the study were recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Some new mothers drink alcohol while they are breastfeeding and think nothing of it. But a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests they could be impacting their baby’s cognitive abilities. Specifically, the study found that children who were exposed to alcohol through their mothers’ breast milk didn’t perform as well on reasoning tests at ages 6 and 7 as their peers who weren’t exposed to any alcohol. For the study, researchers analysed data on 5,107 infants from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Mothers were asked about their alcohol and tobacco use while breastfeeding, with the ultimate aim being to see if either affected children’s cognitive development. Not only were the test scores of children exposed to alcohol lower, they were lowest for those whose mothers drank the most. However, the researchers found no link between smoking while breastfeeding and test scores. While the researchers were not able to measure the cognitive reductions in a child once they reached 10 or 11, Louse Gibson, a co-author of the study, said that “doesn’t mean that the child has grown out of it, or that the effects of the mother’s alcohol consumption aren’t there anymore.” [Recommended reading: Bottle feeding is a woman’s right, midwives advised]
Babies who are fed solid food in addition to breast milk from the age of three months sleep better than those who are solely breastfed, a new study has revealed. Publishing their findings in JAMA Pediatrics, the authors of the study noted the following: “The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. However, 75% of British mothers introduce solids before 5 months and 26% report infant waking at night as influencing this decision.” Experts say women should still heed WHO’s advice, but that the guidelines are currently under review. For the study, the researchers from King's College London, and St George's, University of London, split 1,303 three-month-old infant into two groups: one that was solely breastfed and one that also had solid foods incorporated from the age of three months. The babies’ parents were then surveyed to see if the addition of solid foods had made a difference to the sleep patterns of the infants and the mothers’ quality of life. The parents of the babies who were given solid foods from three months reported that their children slept longer, woke less frequently and had far fewer serious sleep problems. Prof Gideon Lack from King's College, London, said: "The results of this research support the widely held parental view that early introduction of solids improves sleep. "While the official guidance is that starting solid foods won't make babies more likely to sleep through the night, this study suggests that this advice needs to be re-examined in light of the evidence we have gathered." [Related reading: Bottle feeding is a woman’s right, midwives advised]
A lot of stigma faces mothers who choose not to breastfeed and instead raise their children using formula milk from a bottle. And while the phrase ‘breast is best’ is one that’s commonly quoted when talking about raising babies, the Royal College of Midwives in the UK has issued a new position statement making it explicitly clear that bottle feeding is a woman’s right. While breast is still considered best, some women struggle to produce breast milk and have a torrid time breastfeeding, which is why, the college says, an informed choice must be promoted. The reality, though, is that new mothers feel unfairly pressured however they feed their babies. Mothers who breastfeed often feel constrained when it comes to whether, where, how often and how long they breastfeed. Likewise, mothers who go down the bottle route feel judged or guilty. Experts recommend that babies are exclusively breastfeed until the age of six months, after which time solid foods should also be introduced. But compared to the rest of Europe, the UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding. While nearly every new mother attempts to breastfeed at the start, less than half are still exclusively breastfeeding their baby after six weeks. This drops to just 1% after six months. Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "The RCM believes that women should be at the centre of their own care and as with other areas of maternity care, midwives and maternity support workers should promote informed choice. "If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected.
A study conducted in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the UK has found that offering new mothers financial incentives in the form of shopping vouchers boosts breastfeeding rates. For the study, more than 10,000 mothers were offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers as an incentive to breastfeed. The vouchers could be used to buy food, household items, toys, clothes, books or DVDs in supermarkets and other shops. Breastfeeding levels are among the lowest in the world, with just 12% of new mothers in some areas feeding their six to eight week-old babies this way. However, with the voucher incentive scheme, breastfeeding rates in the areas involved rose by 6%. The women were given vouchers worth £120 if they signed declaration forms stating their babies had been breastfeed for the first six weeks of their lives. The mothers received a further £80 of vouchers if they were still breastfeeding after six months. Principal investigator Dr Clare Relton, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “Our scheme offered vouchers to mothers as a way of acknowledging the value of breastfeeding to babies and mothers and the work involved in breastfeeding. “The trial found a significant increase in breastfeeding rates in areas where the scheme was offered. “It seems that the voucher scheme helped mothers to breastfeed for longer. Mothers reported they felt rewarded for breastfeeding.” NHS guidelines say that babies should be exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months of their lives. Babies that are breastfed have fewer health problems in their younger years and are less likely to develop conditions such as diabetes when they are older. The five-year trial was funded by research councils, medical charities and Public Health England.