Monthly Archives: July 2018

Drinking while breast-feeding may dampen child’s brain development


(July 30, 2018 by Serena Gordon, Healthday Reporter)—Sorry, new moms, although you’ve already waited at least nine months, it’s not time for a glass of wine just yet: New research suggests it might be best for baby’s brain to wait until you’ve stopped breast-feeding.

That’s because exposure to alcohol in breast milk was linked to a reduction in thinking and reasoning skills when kids were tested at ages 6 and 7.

The effect might not be lasting, however. When the children were retested between 10 and 11 years old, the link was no longer apparent.

The Australian researchers also noted that smoking while breast-feeding didn’t seem to effect youngsters’ thinking and reasoning abilities.

“The more alcohol women drank, or the riskier their drinking patterns—binge drinking—while breast-feeding, then the lower the child’s abstract reasoning ability at age 6 to 7 years,” said study author Louisa Gibson, a doctoral student in neuropsychology at Macquarie University in Sydney.

It’s important to note that while the study found an association, it didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

However, Gibson said there was no decline in thinking and reasoning skills seen in children of mothers who consumed alcohol but didn’t breast-feed.

“This lack of association in babies who had never been breast-fed suggests that the reduction in [thinking and reasoning] abilities was a direct result of the alcohol in the breast milk, and not because of other social aspects related to drinking,” she explained.

Dr. Michael Grosso, chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y., said the findings should still be interpreted cautiously, “as the association between the risk factor and the outcome may be the result of something unmeasured.”

Still, he said, avoiding alcohol while breast-feeding is likely the safest option for babies.

Gibson agreed. “The safest option is to abstain from alcohol completely during both pregnancy and breast-feeding. This study suggests that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, with every extra drink causing a little bit more harm,” she said.

Gibson pointed out that while the study didn’t find an effect from tobacco use while breast-feeding, she said it might just be that this study wasn’t able to capture those effects.

She said she suspects smoking probably has some detrimental effects during breast-feeding, as there’s evidence that it does in pregnancy. She also suggests abstaining from smoking while breast-feeding.

The study included more than 5,000 babies and mothers from Australia. They were recruited in 2004. The researchers conducted assessments of the children every two years.

Gibson said there are a number of factors that could explain how alcohol while breast-feeding could affect a child’s reasoning skills many years later.

One may be that alcohol may directly damage brain cells. Another is that alcohol may somehow change the nutritional content of breast milk, causing an early nutritional deficiency. Another is that alcohol in breast milkmay affect the feeding and sleeping patterns of a baby, which could affect the infant’s environmental stimulation, Gibson suggested.

Dr. Ron Marino, associate chair of pediatrics at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., said that infancy is a time when the brain’s synapses—the connections between brain nerve cells—are forming at a remarkable rate.

“The human brain is an extremely active organ in both prenatal and early postnatal life,” he said.

Previous studies have also shown that exposure to alcohol or tobacco smoke during this time can have a negative impact, he added.

“The take-home message is quite clear: Do not smoke and avoid alcohol while breast-feeding,” Marino said.

The study was published online July 30 in the journal Pediatrics.

Explore further: Mom’s marijuana winds up in breast milk

More information: Louisa Gibson, M.S., doctoral student, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; Michael Grosso, M.D., chair, pediatrics, Northwell Health Huntington Hospital, Huntington, N.Y.; Ronald Marino, D.O., associate chair, pediatrics, NYU Winthrop Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; July 30, 2018, Pediatrics, online

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol and breast-feeding.
Journal reference: Pediatrics

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Indigenous elder mentorship program leads to healthier babies in Wetaskiwin area

Elder Margaret Montour was an important support for Lacey Hoffman when she was pregnant with her son Aziel. (CBC)

Lacey Hoffman was nervous about attending her prenatal appointments by herself. As a teen expecting her first baby, she worried that others were judging her.

“It wasn’t fun being the youngest one,” recalled Hoffman. “I felt like people were looking at me, thinking that was sad or something like that.”

Now 18, Hoffman said she had the support of her mother and sister but they weren’t always able to join her for appointments at the Wetaskiwin Primary Care Network.

On those days, she had support from Elder Margaret Montour. 

“It was nice to have someone to talk to, to not be alone,” Hoffman told CBC News. 

Montour has been offering support and companionship to pregnant women since 2016 as part of The Elder’s Mentoring Program, a community-based program organized through a partnership between the Maskwacis community and the University of Alberta. 

“You have to be sure that a mother is attending her appointments,” explained Montour, who is from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, about 20 kilometres south of Wetaskiwin.

“That’s one way that I encourage them when I sit down to talk with them one-on-one.”

Connecting through culture

Elder Muriel Lee, from the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, joined the program in 2015 when it was first established as a pilot project.

“I welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the life of a mother that’s expecting, that is going to bring life into this world,” said Lee. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

Lee connects with pregnant women by sharing teachings and stories from her Cree culture.

“I tell them stories that were told to me about who the child is, about raising that child in our way,” she said. 

Lacey Hoffman’s son Aziel is wrapped up in a moss bag, a traditional Indigenous baby carrier that supports the spine. (Lacey Hoffman)


Lee and Montour both say that taking part in the program has been a fulfilling experience.

“It makes me feel good, being acknowledged,” said Montour. “I enjoy it.”

The elders offer to teach mothers about moss bags, a traditional Indigenous baby carrier that supports the baby’s spine and legs while keeping the child snugly wrapped.

It’s a gesture that Hoffman appreciated, since she was looking for a moss bag herself. It’s a tradition she wants to share with her young son Aziel.

“That moss bag was honestly a lifesaver for getting him to sleep at night,” she said with a laugh.

Hoffman doesn’t have her legal Indigenous status, but wants her son to grow up surrounded by his culture. 

“I just want him to be aware of it.”

Building trust 

The Elder’s Mentoring Program is offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when obstetrician Mohammad Badawi sees his prenatal patients.

He said the elders help foster better communication, which in turn leads to a greater trust between the medical team and the patients. 

“If we can’t get information, or we can’t deliver the care that we are hoping to deliver, we find that the elder is the avenue to get to that point,” said Badawi.

Badawi has noticed that his patients are more engaged in their prenatal care since the program has been introduced.

“We saw more compliance, more followup and more adherence to health care and being seen in the prenatal course,” he said.  

The elders have also taught the staff to be more understanding and culturally sensitive, said Badawi.

Elders Margaret Montour, left, and Muriel Lee demonstrate how to wrap up a baby in a traditional moss bag.(CBC)

Research component 

The program was developed over several years of community engagement, led by U of A associate researcher Richard Oster.

“Following that course, believing that if we were to build those relationships, that the program would thrive from that, I think that’s been the key to our success,” he said.

Oster’s research is qualitative and looks at how culturally sensitive care leads to healthier outcomes in pregnancy and after birth.

The feedback has been positive, said Oster. 

“This program offers a platform for enhanced support, which is exactly what we intended,” he said. 

The program’s current funding, through Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS), will run out at the end of the year.

Oster is looking for other financing options to keep the program going, including the possibility of receiving funds from the PCN clinic. 

For Hoffman, the program’s value is obvious. 

“It’s a good idea, not just for Indigenous women but anyone who is alone in their pregnancy,” said Hoffman. “It’s not fun having no support, it’s kind of lonely.”

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A Health Blog: It Takes Only One Drink A Day To Increase Breast Cancer Risk

A comprehensive analysis of 119 studies has found that it takes only 1 glass of wine or any other kind of alcoholic drink a day to increase risk of breast cancer. It was also found that vigorous exercise like fast bicycling or running reduces the risk of pre-menopausal as well as post-menopausal breast cancer. There was also strong evidence confirming a previous finding that post-menopausal breast cancer risk is reduced with moderate exercise.[1]

Worldwide research on how breast cancer risk is affected by exercise, weight and diet was evaluated, which included data from 12 million women and approximately 260,000 breast cancer cases.

There was strong evidence found that risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer is increased by 5% and risk of post-menopausal breast cancer is increased by 9% with drinking the equivalent of a beer or a small glass of wine a day.

The most active vigorously exercising pre-menopausal women had a 17% reduced risk and women who were post-menopausal had a 10% reduced risk of breast cancer in comparison to the least active women. Moderate activity, like gardening and walking, was associated with a 13% reduced risk for the most active women compared to the least active.

The report also showed:

  • Overweight or obesity increases the most common, post-menopausal type breast cancer risk.
  • A reduced breast cancer risk for mothers who breastfeed.
  • Post-menopausal breast cancer risk increases with greater weight gain.

There was also some limited evidence for non-starchy vegetables reducing risk for the less common types of estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer. Limited evidence also shows an association with dairy and diets high in calcium as well as carotenoid containing foods and a reduction in risk of some types of breast cancer. Foods such as apricots, carrots, kale and spinach are good sources of carotenoids, a group of phytonutrients with health benefits.

Although there are risk factors that cannot be controlled such as a family history of breast cancer, being older and early menstrual period, the results of this report confirm that women can modify lifestyle risk factors to reduce breast cancer risk.

The evidence from this report is clear that limiting alcohol, being physically active, and keeping a healthy weight are all steps women can take for reducing their risk of breast cancer.

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Alcohol And Breast Cancer

Just two alcoholic drinks a month during pregnancy raises a child’s risk of having a low IQ and ADHD, study finds

180105-women-drinking-wine-ew-630p_f0eb0b17db2bfd7e11391cd02ff5145b.focal-760x380Just two alcoholic drinks a month during pregnancy raises children’s risk of having low IQs and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), new research suggests.

Youngsters whose mothers drank while expecting score six points lower on IQ tests and are more likely to have poor attention skills than those whose mums went teetotal, a German study found.

Such children have 193 mutated genes, which are associated with brain cell development, the research adds.

Previous studies suggest youngsters who were exposed to alcohol in the womb are more likely to suffer from hyperactivity and impulsive actions.

The NHS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend pregnant women or those trying to conceive abstain from alcohol.

The researchers, from the University Hospital Erlangen, analysed 1,100 pregnant women, with health information being collected during their third trimesters.

The women were told their newborns would be tested for meconium EtG, which is a by-product of alcohol degeneration.

Around 75 per cent of meconium EtG accumulates in foetus’ guts during the last eight weeks of pregnancy.

Due to alcohol also being present in products such as mouthwashes, the researchers set a cut off meconium EtG level that has previously reflected two alcoholic drinks a month.

Between seven and eight years later, 198 of the families agreed to have the same children assessed for their IQs and attention skills.

Attention was measured by recording how long it took for the children to respond to green traffic lights.

DNA samples were also taken from mouth cells in the children.

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

This comes after research released in April 2017 suggested more women in the UK drink alcohol while pregnant than the rest of Europe.

Researchers found that 28.5 per cent of women from the UK drink despite knowing they are expecting.

This is a sharp contrast to just 4.1 per cent of Norwegian women.

Pregnant women in the UK are also among the most frequent drinkers, with nearly three per cent admitting to drinking up to two units a week. One unit is the equivalent of a small glass of wine.

Differences in expectant mother’s drinking habits across Europe are thought to be due to varying exposure to educational campaigns and different attitudes to the habit.

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PBS: The story about drinking while pregnant that got our newsroom talking


On PBS NewsHour, National Correspondent Amna Nawaz reports from Minnesota on a subject often referred to as the “invisible disability:” Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, which can occur when a mother drinks during pregnancy. Symptoms, which include impulse control, hyperactivity and short attention span, can look a lot like ADHD, and a recent study shows that as much as 5 percent of the U.S. population could be affected. This means it could be more common than autism. Many children with FASD go through multiple misdiagnoses and many don’t ever get diagnosed.

Here Nawaz joins producer Lorna Baldwin and Dr. Amber Robins, a NewsHour medical fellow, to discuss the reporting that went into the piece and the people they met living with the disorder.

From: Amna Nawaz
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2018 12:19 PM
To: Lorna Baldwin; Amber Robins
Subject: Reporting the FASD story

I’ll be honest, when we first launched on this story, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was not something I knew much about. I went through two pregnancies and deliveries in the last five years. The journalist in me read and studied aaalllll the information I could during that time. Or so I thought. How did I not know more about something as serious as FASD? How many other women out there were in the same boat?

That’s why it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that awareness is still – 45 years after FASD was first defined– one of the biggest challenges for advocates. That most women aren’t aware that we have no idea how much or how little alcohol can cause FASD. That, yes, a glass of wine every now and again in your third trimester might be totally fine, or it might cause irreparable brain damage in your baby. And that it all rides on a complicated matrix of chemistry and genetics and neurobiology that the science has not yet figured out (because how many pregnant women would volunteer as subjects in that study?)

I know of more friends than I can count who had a drink every now and again during their pregnancies. During my own third trimesters, I drank an occasional glass of wine. Reporting this story, it broke my heart to hear mothers share the guilt and shame they felt talking openly about their alcohol consumption. And while I was baffled to learn what we don’t yet know about FASD, I was also deeply disturbed by everything we do.

From: Lorna Baldwin
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2018 12:50 PM
To: Amna Nawaz; Amber Robins
Subject: Re: Reporting the FASD story

Amna, you’re not alone. Disturbed, baffled and surprised are all words that describe what went through my head when this assignment came my way too. As we dove into the research phase, and made calls to experts, I kept coming back to the same question — why isn’t there more known about FASD? And why does a 100 percent preventable disorder afflict so many people? The answer, as we found out, is complicated.

When I rather unscientifically polled friends and family members to see what they knew, it was very little. And more than one person said their doctor told them a drink now and then while pregnant was “no big deal.” That flies in the face of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines, which we looked up dating back to September 1986: no amount of alcohol use is safe during pregnancy. And that led to a question I kept asking Amber – why is it that some doctors are giving women advice that doesn’t mesh with the professional guidelines? Again, we found out, the answer is complicated.

Read more of their learnings here

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada: Alcohol and Pregnancy Resources


Growing babies are harmed when a mother smokes, drinks alcohol, or uses drugs. It is never too late to quit any substance abuse habits, and there are lots of resources out there in the community to help you stop. Talk to your health care provider. He or she can help you find the resources you and your baby need.

These tip sheets have been developed by the SOGCJust click on the image to download the PDF versions. 


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CBC: More supports needed for people with FASD, say advocates

Maxim Baril-Blouin, who had FASD, died of a suspected drug overdose at the Edmonton Remand Centre.(Sylvie Salomon)


People diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) need lifelong supports, but the disorder is often misunderstood, say advocates. 

The recent overdose death of Maxim Baril-Blouin, who had FASD, at the Edmonton Remand Centre has sparked conversations about the needs of people living with the disability. 

Baril-Blouin’s mother was advocating for better supports for her son at the time of his death.

“There is always more demand than what we have to offer, ” said Lisa Rogozinsky, who coordinates the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network (EFAN).

People with FASD have different needs depending on where they fall on the spectrum, she said. 

“Some of the common areas of impairment that we see are in cognitive ability,” said Rogozinsky. “Attention span, memory, language, their reasoning, judgment, and decision making.”  

About 500 babies a year are born with FASD in Alberta, and about 46,000 Albertans are living with the disorder, according to the provincial government. 

Lifelong supports needed

Local agencies that contribute to EFAN work together to find appropriate services for their clients.

“We basically try to meet a fair amount of the issues that can occur across a lifespan,” said Denise Plesuk, program manager at Catholic Social Services in Edmonton.

The agency offers programs to support people with FASD and their families.

“Some of our programs do have waiting lists, and that’s partly why we’ve expanded into doing more group work,” said Plesuk.

People with FASD need lifelong one-on-one supports, said Rogozinsky, which includes supportive housing.

“We need to provide a sense of belonging to this population that has often fallen through every crack of every system,” she said. 

A tragic case

Maxim Baril-Blouin, who was diagnosed with FASD at a young age, died July 13th at the Edmonton Remand Centre of an apparent fentanyl overdose. 

The 26-year-old man from Whitehorse was court-ordered to live in a supervised environment, but there were no supports for him in the Yukon, said his mother Sylvie Salomon. 

Baril-Blouin had been under the care of a private Stony Plain agency, I Have A Chance Support Services (IHAC) since January. 

He was charged with uttering threats against an employee of the agency on June 19th. 

“They broke all our trust. They failed Maxim big, big time,” Salomon told CBC News. 

Sylvie Salomon says her adopted son Maxim Baril-Blouin suffered from FASD, and needed constant supervision. (Sylvie Salomon)


She questions the training and practices of the IHAC employees who were looking after him.

“You take someone in, you shouldn’t put them in jail,” said Salomon. “They knew the challenge, they advertise being able to take care of someone like my son.”

IHAC said they couldn’t comment on Baril-Blouin’s case for privacy reasons.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Baril-Blouin,” wrote executive director Lory Morgan in an emailed statement. “Due to client and employee confidentiality requirements we are unable to further comment.”

FASD and the justice system

People with FASD frequently get tangled up in the criminal justice system, both as perpetrators and victims of crime, said Rogozinsky.

They are particularly vulnerable because their disability is not visible, she added. 

“The justice system is just assuming that this is an individual that is functioning at a completely age appropriate level, which may not always be the case.”

People with FASD also tend to be easily manipulated, said Plesuk.

“Quite often, people with FASD want to please other people and they don’t always understand consequences,” explained Plesuk. “They will often get tangled up with people who will use them to commit crimes.”

They also struggle with understanding what other people are saying, she said.

“They need time to process the information. They need instructions that are very short and concrete, one or two things at a time.”

Supporting expecting mothers

Shaming and blaming expecting mothers who consume alcohol is counterproductive, said Rogozinsky.

“FASD is not a women’s issue, it’s a community issue,” she said. “Let’s make sure we are addressing the reasons behind a woman’s alcohol consumption in pregnancy.”

Complete abstinence from alcohol is the safest route, said Rogozinsky, as it is not known what constitutes a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. 

People also need to recognize how their own behaviour influences expecting mothers, said Plesuk.

“If we know someone who is pregnant, are we offering them wine? Are we offering them a drink or are we offering them some non-alcoholic choices?” she said. “We often forget about that piece.” 


Josee St-Onge


Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at

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