(Reuters Health) – Fathers who drink alcohol in the months before they conceive are more likely to have babies with heart defects than those who abstain before conception, suggests a recent study.
When fathers drink in the three months before conception, babies are 44% more likely to have birth defects than when they don’t, according to the study. And when fathers had binge eating attacks – more than five drinks on one occasion – babies were 52% more likely to have heart defects.
When mothers drank during this preconception period or during the first three months of pregnancy, babies had a 16% increased risk of congenital heart defects. The increased risk was similar if the mothers were heavy drinkers.
âExcessive alcohol consumption by expectant parents is a high-risk and dangerous behavior that may not only increase the risk of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly harm their own health,â Jiabi Qin said, lead author of the study. and researcher at the Xiangya School of Public Health at Central South University in Changsha, China.
The results of the study suggest that men should stop drinking alcohol at least six months before trying to conceive, and that women should stop at least a year before trying to have a baby. Qin said in a statement.
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects and one of the leading causes of infant death in late pregnancy and in the first few weeks of life, note the researchers in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. These defects involve structural abnormalities of the heart that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life, even when children have surgery to correct the defects.
Although some previous research has linked parental alcohol use before conception and during pregnancy to an increased risk of congenital heart defects, the results have been mixed and have focused primarily on mothers and not fathers. note the study team.
For the current study, the researchers analyzed data from 55 previous studies that included a total of 41,747 babies with congenital heart defects and a total of 297,587 infants without these defects.
Mothers’ alcohol consumption could contribute to genetic changes in babies that cause heart defects, some previous research suggests. While this may also be true for fathers, less is known about the association between paternal alcohol consumption and birth defects, the study team notes.
One limitation of the analysis is that the included studies were not designed to test for differences in the risk of heart defects for paternal alcohol consumption versus maternal consumption, said Dr Thomas Zegkos, co-author. of an accompanying editorial and cardiologist at the AHEPA University Hospital in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Even so, there are plenty of good reasons for men and women to cut back on alcohol when trying to conceive, Zegkos said via email.
âThis study also confirms that even small amounts of alcohol confer an increased risk of congenital heart defects,â Zegkos said.
âTherefore, abstinence from alcohol is advised before conception and during pregnancy,â Zegkos added. “If complete abstinence is not possible, a ‘lower is better’ strategy should be implemented.”