A Question of Health: Must I be on the wagon to get insurance? And are rear-facing buggies best for baby?

Drinking policy

I had an insurance medical exam two years ago that produced slightly abnormal liver-function tests. I was advised to stop drinking for six weeks, and the blood test returned to normal. This satisfied the insurance company that I was not an alcoholic, and I was offered life insurance at standard rates. I am now applying for another insurance policy and I don't want the same thing to happen again. I only drink wine, and rarely more than a glass or two a day. If I stop drinking altogether, how long do I need to be on the wagon before risking a blood test to check my liver function?

The fact that your blood tests returned to normal very quickly makes it unlikely that you were doing your liver any serious harm. You may be someone whose liver is unusually sensitive to small amounts of alcohol. Or it may even be that your previously abnormal liver-function tests were caused by a viral infection that had nothing to do with alcohol. If you stop drinking completely for about four weeks, I would expect any transient upsets in your liver function to return to normal. If, after four weeks of abstinence, you still have abnormal liver-function tests, you need to find out if there is any underlying problem.

Which pushchair?

I've read that rear-facing pushchairs are better for babies than front- facing ones (rear-facing meaning that the child faces the adult pushing the buggy). The main point being that rear-facing pushchairs encourage non-verbal communication in children, whereas front-facing ones isolate the child. How true or valid is this? As expectant grandparents, we would like to buy the pushchair, and our daughter is in the process of choosing one.

Babies like to look at human faces from the moment that they are born. In very early life, they can focus at a distance of about one foot, which makes it easy to see mum's face when the baby is feeding at the breast. But as the eyes mature, they can see faces that are further away. By the time babies are in a pushchair, they can see clearly things that are quite far away. I looked for psychological research on the subject of front- facing and rear-facing pushchairs, but in vain. I'm sure there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Of course, a rear-facing buggy allows the baby to keep an eye on his mum, or whoever is pushing the buggy. But looking backwards means that the baby is unable to watch the world go by. You could argue that babies spend plenty of time interacting with their parents at home, and a front-facing pram might teach them new social skills. Strangers often give passing babies a big smile, and this social interaction would be invisible to a baby who is facing backwards. The other issue to consider is safety. Babies who are not properly strapped in can go flying if a forward-facing buggy hits an obstruction. So a rear-facing buggy might be safer.

Send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, `The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e- mail health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions


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