For years we have been warned that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should not consume any alcohol for the sake of the baby's health, and now a new study suggests dads, too, should completely abstain from alcohol before trying to conceive.
The research was published this week in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology and found an association between dad's drinking before conception and congenital heart defects (a common birth defect) in infants.
One of the study's authors, Dr. Jiabi Qin, says heterosexual couples who are trying to conceive should stop consuming alcohol long before the conception date. Qin says would-be-moms should abstain for a year before they start to try and potential fathers should stop drinking alcohol six months before trying for a pregnancy.
Now, if your male partner (or you, if you're the male) had a couple of beers in the months leading up to your pregnancy, don't worry. According to Dr. Qin, the team, "observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased. The relationship was not statistically significant at the lower quantities."
Basically, if dad had a few drinks in the weeks and months before you got pregnant it's not a big deal, but if your male partner is drinking a lot while you're trying to get pregnant they may want to stop.
Dads, please don't blame yourself if your family is dealing with congenital heart defects (like we said, a couple beers is not an issue) but if you are trying to conceive it is important to know that a father's binge-drinking (defined as having five or more drinks per sitting) while trying to conceive is linked to a 52% higher chance of congenital heart defects.
The research doesn't show that the binge-drinking causes heart defects, only that there is a strong association between them. More research is needed but those behind the science suggest dads should stop drinking ahead of conception. "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," says Dr. Qin.
This makes sense, as we know that dad's preconception health can also have a significant effect on a baby's development. Previous research into the impacts of dad's diet and caffeine intake highlight the need for education and intervention for fathers, because making some healthy lifestyle changes preconception could lead to better birth outcomes.
For men who want to become fathers, understanding that their own lifestyle choices could improve birth outcomes can be empowering. Dad's diet, alcohol consumption, age and even stress levels can have an impact on the child. It truly does take two people to make a baby and we need to stop discounting father's genetic (and day-to-day) contributions.
Dads matter, and their health matters so much more than we understand. Guys, you may not be fathers yet, but you can already start taking care of your baby by taking care of yourself.
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