Paternal Drinking Six Months Before Conception Linked To Higher Birth Defect Risk

It is generally common knowledge that anyone hoping to become pregnant should avoid consuming alcohol.  Of course, the majority of this research has focused solely on how alcohol affects the one bearing the children (the woman).  For one, it can simply make conception more difficult, taking longer to accomplish it.  More importantly, drinking alcohol at any time leading up to and throughout pregnancy dramatically increases risk for health issues in the baby. 

A new study, however, advises that the male partner in this process should also avoid alcohol when planning a pregnancy.  In short, the study concludes that the paternal sperm donor (essentially, the father) should stop drinking alcohol for at least the six months leading up to conception. 

In this study, the researchers found male consumption of alcohol showed a correlation to a greater change that their baby would be born with a birth defect. These defects could include things like congenital heart disease—also known as CHD—which is an abnormality in the structure of the heart. This is a main cause of perinatal death that can increase cardiovascular risks later in life.  Specifically, this risk increased by 47 percent when the prospective father drank more than 375 grams of alcohol per day (again, leading up to conception). 

This study actually involved an analysis of the results of 55 existing studies, all of which included data from a total of 41,747 babies diagnosed with CHD, and 297,587 who were not.  Comparing this data, the researchers found that the more alcohol the dad-to-be reported drinking in those months leading up to conception, the higher was the associated risk for congenital heart disease in the fetus.  In fact, this relationship was so strong that they found alcohol consumption—again, in the paternal contributor—within three months preceding conception could result in a 44 percent higher risk of CHD.  Binge drinking—described as five or more drinks in a single sitting—was associated with a  52 percent higher risk. 

This study is important, of course, because CHD is among the most common types of birth defects. The most recent data calculates it affects approximately 40,000 births in the United States, annually.  Unfortunately, we still do not understand the mechanism of the relationship between paternal drinking and birth defects; but obviously, this is a good start that should lead to more thorough research.