A new study, published in the journal European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, showed a link between prospective parents’ drinking prior to conceiving and congenital heart defects in babies.
The study was a meta-analysis that reviewed existing studies on the topic. When putting the data from those studies together, this one found that fathers who drank alcohol during the three months prior to conception were 44 percent more likely to have babies with congenital heart defects compared to non-drinkers. For fathers who were binge drinkers, defined as drinking five or more drinks per session, they were 52 percent more likely to have babies with heart defects compared to non-drinkers.
For mothers who drank prior to conception, there was a 16 percent higher likelihood for their babies to have congenital heart defects compared to non-drinkers.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is well known to cause congenital birth defects in children, but this study shows that drinking even prior to pregnancy may be harmful. For this reason, study author Jibi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health at Central South University in Changsha, China, recommends that men should not consume alcohol for six months prior to conception and women should stop drinking one year before conception.
The underlying mechanism of how alcohol consumption by men may cause birth defects is not understood. We do know from previous research though that alcohol can change the DNA in developing sperm and change sperm activity.
This current study is showing a link between alcohol and birth defects, but it is important to note that the study does not show with certainty that alcohol is the cause. Until further research is done, my recommendation is that both men and women consider at least limiting alcohol consumption prior to pregnancy.