Objective. To test the hypothesis that exposure to alcohol in breast milk affects infants' sleep and activity levels in the short term.

Methods. Thirteen lactating women and their infants were tested on 2 days, separated by an interval of 1 week. On each testing day, the mother expressed 100 mL of milk, while a small, computerized movement detector called an actigraph was placed on the infant's left leg to monitor sleep and activity patterning. After the actigraph had been in place for ∼15 minutes, the infants ingested their mother's breast milk flavored with alcohol (32 mg) on one testing day and breast milk alone on the other. The infants' behaviors were monitored for the next 3.5 hours.

Results. The infants spent significantly less time sleeping during the 3.5 hours after consuming the alcohol-flavored milk (78.2 minutes compared with 56.8 minutes after feeding alcohol in breast milk). This reduction was apparently attributable to a shortening in the longest sleeping bout (34.5 compared with 56.7 minutes for sleeping after breast milk alone) and the amount of time spent in active sleep (25.8 minutes compared with 44.2 minutes after breast milk alone); the decrease in active sleep was observed in all but 2 of the 13 infants tested.

Conclusions. Although the mechanisms underlying the reduction in sleep remain to be elucidated, this study shows that short-term exposure to small amounts of alcohol in breast milk produces distinctive changes in the infant's sleep–wake patterning.

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