Most are well aware that drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause serious problems for an unborn baby's health. Fetal alcohol syndrome has long been discussed by medical professionals and scientists. But, more recently, scientists are working to understand, on a deeper level, how a father's alcohol consumption comes into play, too. Or, more specifically, whether drinking alcohol affects sperm. According to a new study, it seems that a father's alcohol consumption can, indeed, affect the health of his child down the road.
A recent study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that reviewed all existing data regarding the link between alcohol consumption and congenital heart disease. Scientists looked at around 340,000 births recorded on three different data bases, PubMed, Embase, and Chinese databases, to compile updated information and evidence about whether or not a parent's alcohol consumption affected a child's chances of being born with congenital heart disease.
Researchers found that fathers who could be categorized as "binge drinkers" for three months prior to conception (meaning they drank at least five drinks per session) were 52 percent more likely to have a child with congenital heart disease compared to fathers who were not drinkers. For fathers who drank but couldn't be categorized as binge drinkers that number was still high; they were 44 percent more likely to have a baby born with heart disease than non-drinkers.
It's important to note that the study does not show that a prospective father's drinking will empirically cause congenital heart disease in their child, but it does show a strong association between the two. As study author Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China explained in a statement to CNN: "Binge drinking by would-be parents is a high risk and dangerous behavior that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly damages their own health."
As many parents already know, it can be pretty difficult to predict when you're going to get pregnant even if you're in the planning stages. And there are obviously plenty of people who are not planning to have a baby and get pregnant, which means one or both parents could be drinking alcohol within months or even weeks of conception. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women who are hoping to conceive avoid all alcohol consumption within one year of having a baby. The CDC also notes that there doesn't appear to be any safe amount of alcohol a pregnant woman can drink if she wants to avoid side effects in her baby like low birth weight, heart problems, and speech delays down the road.
As for men who are hoping to become fathers, Dr. Qin told the Daily Mail that they should give up alcohol six months before trying to conceive. "The underlying mechanisms connecting parental alcohol and congenital heart diseases are uncertain and warrant further research," Dr. Qin told the publication. "Although our analysis has limitations — for example the type of alcohol was not recorded — it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol."
A lot goes into family planning and, of course, every hopeful parent-to-be wants the best for their future children. While this research doesn't provide every answer, it does provide prospective mothers and fathers as well as medical professionals with more information.