Binge drinking by pregnant and lactating mothers can impair the mental health of their offspring, reports a study published today in Frontiers in Psychiatry. In a rat model, Italian researchers find that while habitual drinking is associated with anxiety type of behaviors in mothers and their offspring, intermittent or binge drinking has a depressive effect. Moreover, offspring of binge-drinking mothers were less responsive to natural stimuli, showed greater “despair” behavior, and were more vulnerable to alcohol abuse during adolescence. This is the first study to show that alcohol-triggered changes in the mother can be passed on to her offspring.
It is commonly assumed that alcohol is easily discontinued during pregnancy, as recommended by physicians. “But this is not always the case for habitual drinkers,” says Dr. Carla Cannizzaro, the lead author of the study. “Pregnant women might also think intermittent social drinking is less harmful than daily drinking.”
To examine the consequences of maternal drinking — either continuously or intermittently — Cannizzaro and co-workers at the Università degli Studi di Palermo, Italy, used a rat model. In the study, pregnant and lactating female rats were given water that contained alcohol in a manner that mimicked habitual and binge drinking in women. At the end of the study period, the rat mothers and their offspring underwent a battery of tests to assess mood and behavior.