A couple of weeks ago, drinking while pregnant was riding high. It even looked like there might be some benefits to a healthy intake of frosty cold beers on a hot summer’s evening. But today’s news took the pregnant drinking rollercoaster on an inevitable downturn.
Put down that beer and read on for the bad news.
A new study suggests that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can affect the fertility of male offspring.
Lower sperm counts were shown in sons of women who had more than 4.5 drinks per week. (The measurements were made when the sons were adults.) Sperm counts of sons of drinkers were about 1/3 lower than those who had not been exposed to alcohol in utero.
The study doesn’t suggest that sons of pregnant drinkers will be infertile. But, as many women who have had a hard time getting pregnant can attest, a low sperm count can make things a lot tougher. It is not known if this is a direct effect (then again, it seems that’s rarely known in this kind of study). And since this is the first study of its kind, there will need to be many more before any conclusive results are produced.
More confusion, more contradictory recommendations, more fodder for anxiety about how what we’re doing (or have done) may be piling on the problems for generations to come.
There is a bit of a light at the end of the bottle though. The study also showed that a small amount of alcohol, the equivalent of about a drink a week, can actually improve male offspring’s sperm count. The study’s author explains:
“Our finding that sons prenatally exposed to 1-1.5 drinks per week had higher semen volume and total sperm count compared to the least exposed group is not surprising and is quite a common finding when studying alcohol. It could indicate that small amounts of alcohol have a beneficial effect (for example, on the semen-producing tissue in the foetal testes), but, in fact, we believe this result may be biased by the characteristics of the women drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy or by inaccurate reporting of alcohol consumption. Therefore, it is not possible to draw a firm conclusion from this result.”
This whole debate is starting to remind me of Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Will we eventually discover a “Just Right” amount of alcohol in pregnancy? Or continue to default to zero, whether or not the research supports it?