We don’t have to tell you that pregnant women are discouraged from drinking alcohol to prevent health problems for baby, but a new study suggests Dad should watch the alcohol intake, too — even before he becomes a dad.
A new study, published in the European Journal of Cardiology, analyzed 55 different studies, and shockingly, it found that men who were binge drinkers — consuming five or more drinks at a time — were 52% more likely to conceive a baby with a congenital heart defect than men who didn’t drink did. Mothers who binge-drank before conception had a 16% higher risk.
“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,” said study author Dr. Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China, in a statement.
Researchers note that this study links binge drinking to congenital heart defects but doesn’t prove it causes them. Still, the findings give enough evidence to suggest that the more drinking a future parents does, the more damage it could do.
“We observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased,” said Qin. “The relationship was not statistically significant at the lower quantities.”
Qin recommends men avoid alcohol completely for 6 months before trying to conceive and that women abstain for a full year before becoming pregnant — a suggestion which may seem simple in theory but may be difficult to apply in real life, seeing as how about half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. And one in six adults binge drinks about four times a month.
“It’s not always a perfect world, but if you’re in a position where you’re trying to have a baby and you can plan ahead, one thing you can do for that baby’s health is to limit alcohol intake,” Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows. “Since there is a stronger association if you have multiple drinks, maybe if you’re thinking ‘Should I have a beer with my friends?’ it’s probably okay to have a beer but not five.”
Fisher also recommends both potential parents-to-be get checkups and run any medications they’re taking past their doctors before trying to conceive. She notes that this news is part of mounting evidence that shows a father’s pre-conception health can affect the baby’s. For example, it was recently shown that a father’s age can affect a child’s risk for autism.
“Pregnancy is not all just the mom and the process she goes through,” notes Fisher. “There are more things we’re finding about the dad and his health as well.”