The impact of father’s drinking on alcohol syndrome in babies


Men tend to drink more, engage in binge drinking more frequently, and are almost four times more likely to develop alcohol use disorder than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Surprisingly, while evaluating babies born with birth defects linked to alcohol consumption, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, the focus has typically been solely on the mother’s drinking habits.

Research has unequivocally revealed that sperm carries a significant amount of epigenetic information, influencing fetal development and child health. However, the influence of paternal health and lifestyle choices on child development is often overlooked by most doctors and healthcare providers.

While much attention centers around the mother’s drinking during pregnancy, a team of experts concentrated on male drinking in the weeks and months leading up to conception.

Studies are pioneering in demonstrating that pre-pregnancy male drinking could be an unexplored factor contributing to the development of alcohol-related craniofacial abnormalities and growth deficiencies.

Back in 1981, the US surgeon general warned about the adverse effects of alcohol use by women during pregnancy, linking it to physical and mental birth defects in children. This acknowledgment marked the emergence of fetal alcohol syndrome, associated with maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Today, medical professionals recognize fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in approximately 1 in 20 US schoolchildren. These disorders encompass a broad range of alcohol-related physical, developmental, and behavioral deficits, presenting life-long challenges for those affected.

The prevailing belief attributes alcohol-related birth defects solely to maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, often placing blame on women. The medical community reinforces this perception by mandating pediatricians to confirm and document maternal prenatal alcohol use before diagnosing children with alcohol-related birth defects or related neurobehavioral disorders. However, instances exist where mothers deny alcohol use during pregnancy, despite their child receiving a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome.

According to the CDC, there’s no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy or when trying to conceive. Nonetheless, reported drinking levels don’t consistently correlate with alcohol-related birth defects, leading to conflicting public messaging.

While variations in the quantity and timing of maternal alcohol consumption can influence the development of fetal alcohol syndrome, these factors alone cannot account for the wide range and severity of symptoms. This suggests that unidentified factors, beyond maternal alcohol use, contribute to this disorder.

Understanding that alcohol is often a social activity, we conducted studies using a mouse model to assess the impact of alcohol consumption by either or both parents before conception.

Expert research using this mouse model illustrated that chronic male alcohol exposure significantly affected the formation of the offspring’s brain, skull, and facial structure. They observed microcephaly and lower birth weight, both worsening with increased paternal alcohol intake, mirroring the core defects seen in fetal alcohol syndrome.

Additionally, these craniofacial changes persisted into adulthood, indicating abnormalities in the jaw, adult teeth size, and alignment—a recognized symptom of fetal alcohol syndrome in humans.

Beyond the findings, other studies have identified behavioral changes in the offspring of male mice consuming alcohol regularly. Clinical studies also hint at increased risks of heart defects in people due to paternal drinking.

Moreover, the research suggests that male alcohol exposure could impact fertility and hinder couples’ chances of achieving a healthy pregnancy, a crucial aspect considering assisted reproductive technologies.

Considering the substantial costs and lifelong impact on affected individuals, overlooking paternal drinking habits in public health discussions regarding fetal alcohol spectrum disorders might neglect a crucial contributing factor. Until doctors routinely inquire about paternal drinking, we may never fully comprehend the role of paternal alcohol exposure in birth defects and child health.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here