Aspiring fathers should stop drinking alcohol for at least six months before trying for a baby to protect against congenital heart defects, research has suggested.
Mothers-to-be should also aim to go teetotal for as much as a year in advance, according to scientists at China’s Xiangya School of Public Health.
The suggestion comes after a team analysed data from 55 studies published between 1991 and 2019, including 41,747 babies with congenital heart disease and 297,587 without.
They found men drinking for the three months prior to pregnancy was associated with a 44 per cent higher risk of the disease developing.
Women drinking over the same period and in their first trimester was associated with a 16 per cent rise, said the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Meanwhile binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks per sitting, was linked to a 52 per cent higher likelihood of these birth defects for men and 16 per cent for women.
In relation to specific defects, the team found that - compared to abstinence - maternal drinking was associated with a 20 per cent greater risk of Tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of four heart abnormalities.
“Binge drinking by would-be parents is a high risk and dangerous behaviour 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.
“We observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased.”
More research needed
He said the results suggested when couples try for a baby, men should avoid alcohol for six months before fertilisation and women for a whole year.
However, the study noted its findings were observational and did not prove a causal effect nor that paternal drinking is more harmful than maternal to foetal hearts.
“The underlying mechanisms connecting parental alcohol and congenital heart diseases are uncertain and warrant further research,” Dr Qin added.
“Although our analysis has limitations - for example the type of alcohol was not recorded - it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol.”