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Drinking While Pregnant Can Affect Son's Fertility

Drinking while pregnantThere’s been a flurry of press lately saying pregnant women should go ahead and kick back with a cold drink once in awhile. Here’s something to give you pause before pouring that glass of wine.

New research shows that mothers who drink moderately during pregnancy may have sons with low sperm counts. They’re not exactly infertile, but they’re at the low end of a normal sperm count.

The research was done by a Danish team working with a broad, long-term study of healthy habits during pregnancy. They published their research today after more than 20 years of study.

The study found that women who drank 4-5 alcoholic beverages a week during their pregnancies had sons who, 20 years later, had dramtically lowered sperm counts. They averaged about a third lower than the children of women who did not drink, or drank only sparingly.

In fact, drinking sparingly may help boost virility. Sons whose mothers drank 1-2 drinks a week had higher sperm counts than those whose mamas were teetotalers.

Dads can drink up during pregnancy, though. Fathers’ alcohol consumption had no observable impact on their sons’ future sperm counts. The researchers also found that shared lifestyle factors like the parents’ smoking did not seem to affect it.

The current theory is that Mommy’s glass of wine before bed has a negative effect on the developing tissue inside the testes. It’s possible that small amounts of alcohol may actually boost the development of that tissue, but there are enough other factors that made the 1-2 drink a day women healthier that those findings are inconclusive.

One of the lead researchers, Dr. Ramlau-Hansen, said:

“If further research shows that maternal alcohol consumption is a cause of reduced semen concentration in male offspring, then we are a bit closer to an explanation of why semen quality may have decreased during the last decades and why it differs between populations. If exposure to alcohol in foetal life causes poor semen quality in adult life, we would expect that populations with many pregnant women drinking, possibly heavily, in pregnancy would have lower fertility in comparison with populations of where pregnant women do not drink.”

This is a pretty scary finding. Most American women have heavily internalized the stricture not to drink while pregnant, so this is just one more nudge in the direction of leaving the booze aside until the baby comes out.

Photo: Remko Van Dokkum

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