Trying to Have a Baby? You Should Give up Alcohol at Least Six Months Before Conception

Would-be parents should stop drinking alcohol at least six months before they hope to conceive in order to lower their child's risk of being born with heart problems, according to scientists.

Researchers in China said men shouldn't drink alcohol at least six months before conceiving, and women should quit drinking up to one year prior to getting pregnant to prevent their child from having congenital heart diseases. The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The most common type of birth defect and among the biggest perinatal killers, these conditions affect nearly 1 percent of babies in the U.S. each year, or around 40,000 infants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Worldwide, some 1.35 million babies are born with heart defects each year. Around a quarter of these will have a critical condition which will require a treatment such as surgery before the baby's first birthday. Conditions can affect the shape of a baby's heart, making it harder for the organ to process blood and pump it to the rest of the body.

The scientists carried out what is known as a meta-analysis, by reviewing a total of 55 existing studies. The papers published between 1991 and 2019 spanned Asia, North America, Europe, and Oceania. Of the total babies included in the papers, 41,747 had congenital heart disease and 297,587 didn't.

Alcohol consumption was defined in the study as drinking in the three months before pregnancy and the first trimester during. The likelihood of a child developing heart defects gradually rose the more parents drank, the team found.

The babies of fathers who drank had a 44 percent higher chance of having a congenital heart disease from the baseline, and 16 percent if mothers drank.

In an editorial accompanying the study also published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, heart experts from the AHEPA University Hospital in Greece wrote the meta-analysis is the first to find a link between parents drinking alcohol and congenital heart diseases in offspring.

"This is important considering that although the pathophysiological link has been unanimously proven, all the existing studies until now provided mixed or negative associations. This was a confusing issue for the scientific community," they wrote.

"Future well-designed cohort interventional studies are warranted in order to provide further evidence on this crucial subject," they said.

Study co-author, Jiabi Qin of the department of epidemiology and health statistics at China's Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, told Newsweek: "If women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, we suggested that parents should resolutely avoid alcohol consumption six months or one year before and during the pregnancy."

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Scientists believe drinking alcohol in the run-up to pregnancy could affect the offspring's heart health. A stock image shows two people drinking red wine. Getty