| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

Men who drink alcohol are 35% more likely to father children with birth defects

Men who consume alcohol while trying for a baby — even only once per week — are more than a third more likely to father children with birth defects, a study has shown.

Researchers analysed the pre-conception alcohol habits and pregnancy outcomes of over 500,000 couples across mainland China.

Of the mothers in these couples, only 3% drank in the 6 months before conception, allowing the team a unique look at the impact of paternal drinking.

In Western countries, it is estimated up to 30% of women drink either before or during pregnancy, making it harder to assess the effect of fathers who drink.

According to their data, the team found that not only does paternal drinking increase the risk of birth defects generally, but it also increases the risk of clefts by 55%.

Cleft lips and palates happen when parts of the face do not fuse together properly during foetal development, and occur in 1-in-700 births in the UK.

The outcomes add to the growing evidence that the lifestyles of fathers — not only mothers — have the potential to impair the growth of foetuses in the womb.

“It’s widely recommended for women to quit consuming alcohol before and during pregnancy,” said paper author and gynaecologist Xiaotian Li of the Fudan University in Shanghai, eastern China.

Nonetheless, he noted, the safety of fathers’ drinking which try to conceive has barely been considered — until now.

“Our finding suggests future fathers should be encouraged to modify their alcohol intake before conceiving to reduce foetal risk,” Professor Li said.

“Paternal alcohol exposure biologically increases the risk of sperm abnormalities,” he added.

In their study, Professor Li and colleagues analysed data on the pregnancy findings of 529,090 couples living in China and their alcohol consumption in the 6 months before conception.

Men drank at least once per week in this period in 31.2% of the couples, while only 3.3% of the women did the same.

Overall, 609 children with birth defects were reported by the parents in the 6 weeks following delivery.

The researchers’ analysis showed that once other factors were accounted for, children were 35% more likely to have a birth defect if their father had drank once a week or more in the 6 months before conception.

Moreover, the team found that the odds of cleft lips and palates specifically was risen by 55% among the children of fathers who drank while trying for a baby with their partner.

“This study aimed to investigate the association between paternal drinking before pregnancy and birth defects to provide supportive evidence for alcohol cessation in preconception health care,” Professor Li noted.

“It provides evidence for clinical recommendation and public health strategy making to improve offspring life quality.”

  • Daily Mail