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Both parents should stop drinking before pregnancy, experts warn

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Moms-to-be are generally advised to reduce or eliminate alcohol even before they start trying to conceive in order to protect their infants against birth defects, particularly heart abnormalities.  However, new research shows that this advice should apply to both parents.

The analysis, the first to look at paternal alcohol intake and fetal heart risk, encompassed more than 50 studies conducted between 1991 and 2019. It found that fathers’ alcohol consumption, during the three months before conception was associated with a 44% increased risk of congenital heart disease in their infants, when compared with those who drank no alcohol. For mothers, the increased risk was 16%. For parents who binge drank – defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting – the risk of heart abnormalities in their babies grew by 52% for men and 16% for women.

Dr. Jiabi Qin, who led the research, said the results suggest that to limit this risk, men should abstain from alcohol for at least six months prior to conception, while women should stop drinking a full year prior, in addition to avoiding alcohol during pregnancy. 

“We observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased. The relationship was not statistically significant at lower quantities,” he said.

Qin noted that the observational study cannot prove cause and effect between alcohol and fetal heart defects, nor can it conclude that fathers’ drinking before pregnancy is more harmful to the fetal heart than maternal drinking. The data also cannot be used to define an amount of alcohol consumption that might be considered safe, he added.

“Although our analysis has limitations, it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol,” he said.

The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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