Alcohol-Exposed Infants React Less to Pain
Babies who were prenatally exposed to alcohol seem to be less responsive to pain stimuli, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia.
HealthDay News reported Jan. 27 that researcher Tim F. Oberlander and colleagues studied 28 newborns and found that the 14 whose mothers drank heavily during pregnancy had a more muted reaction to being lanced in the heel for blood collection, a standard but painful hospital procedure.
“[P]hysiological responses to the heel lance, such as heart rate and parts of the nervous system that controls heart rate, were blunted or dampened compared to infants with little or no alcohol exposure,” said Oberlander, who also is affiliated with BC Children’s Hospital and the Child and Family Research Institute. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher among the alcohol-exposed infants after the lancing, but the exposed infants also were less aroused, researchers found.
“What these findings mean for long-term development and behavior [of children] is unknown at this point,” Oberlander said. “However, we do know that altered stress regulation early in life can set up risk and vulnerability for poor mental and physical health and social and academic failure across the life span. In this sense, we think our findings may reflect a first glimpse at how prenatal alcohol exposure might ’calibrate’ or ’program’ emerging stress systems in early life.”
The study was published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.