A Texas scientist has linked birth defects to the father’s drinking patterns prior to conception.
Researchers from Texas A&M University conducted a study aimed at gaining a better understanding of how alcohol consumption before conception can cause birth defects.
Using mice, Dr. Michael Golding, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Physiology at Texas A&M University, and a team of researchers observed that male consumption of alcohol before conception apparently led to the development of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), particularly in terms of facial features.
FAS is a lifelong incurable condition that develops in a fetus due to the consumption of alcohol. The Cleveland Clinic reports that there are no exact statistics on how many suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) but estimates that less than two per 1,000 live births occur with the condition in the United States.
It was previously thought that FAS only occurred in children whose mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant.
Medical professionals diagnose this syndrome by looking for abnormalities in one’s face, weight, attention span, coordination, and other areas, along with a confirmation of alcohol use during pregnancy.
“When doctors suspect a child has FAS, they sit down with the mother to confirm the diagnosis by discussing her drinking habits during pregnancy,” said Golding, according to Texas A&M.
“It’s not uncommon for the mother to deny consuming alcohol while pregnant. When they do, there’s this stigma or this notion that women are lying about their alcohol use,” he continued.
According to the CDC, FAS is entirely preventable if alcohol is not consumed before birth, and thus advises mothers not to consume alcohol in any amount when pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.
This new research, however, postulates that a father’s drinking patterns before conception may play a role in the development of this condition in utero. In fact, it’s possible that a father’s alcohol use could have more of an effect on the formation of a child’s face than the mother’s does, the study suggests.
“We found that male exposures actually drive certain craniofacial differences much stronger than maternal exposures do, so this programming effect that’s coming through sperm has a profound effect on the organization of the face and the growth and proportion of different facial features,” said Golding, according to Texas A&M.
“When it was the dad drinking, we saw a profound shift in the organization of the face,” he continued.
Golding said that this research means rethinking the dismissal of mothers who claim they did not drink during pregnancy but also reveals that a father’s drinking habits appear to play a role in a child’s development in the womb. He contended that given the focus on maternal health, there is a need for a balanced perspective.
Golding called for warning labels on alcoholic products to be updated in light of this new information.
“Change the alcohol warning label to remove the maternal emphasis and put it on both parents to say, ‘The decision to consume this beverage can have significant, life-changing consequences to a future child,’” said Golding.
“Right now, the warning label only conveys part of the story,” he continued.