Roundup: Drinking While Pregnant? Not If You Want Grandchildren

Robin Marty

A new study shows that among all the other potential ill effects of alcohol on pregnancy, a woman might hinder her son's chance at having a family down the road.

Campaigns have been going strong in the last few decades to try and encourage pregnant women to avoid alcohol.  Fetal alcohol syndrome and other potential birth defects have been highlighted to a point where watching episodes of Mad Men makes most of us cringe.

But researchers may have come up with yet another reason women should avoid alcohol — do they want to be grandmothers or not?

From CNN blogs:

Researchers in Denmark found prenatal exposure to alcohol may lead to long effects on a fetus’ sperm quality.

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.


More than 20 years ago, nearly 12,000 pregnant women in Denmark answered questionnaires about their health and lifestyle, including how much alcohol they were consuming. About five years ago, researchers tracked down 347 adult sons (ages 18-21 years) of those women and tested their semen and blood.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a sperm count of 40 million semen per milliliter indicates increased fertility. This new study found when moms drank four to five alcoholic beverages per week during their pregnancy, their sons later had sperm concentrations of about 25 million per milliliter, which was about 32 percent lower compared with offspring of expectant mothers who did not drink alcohol during their pregnancy, according to lead study author Dr. Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen.

No one seems to be completely sure how the two are affecting each other, but they do seem fairly certain there is a correlation.  Time Magazine reports:

as Allan Pacey, a senior lecturer in andrology at the U.K.’s University of Sheffield, pointed out to the BBC, while the study raises questions about the relationship between prenatal alcohol exposure and developmental complications impacting male fertility, it isn’t entirely clear that the link between routine alcohol consumption during pregnancy and lower semen quality is direct. As he explains to the BBC:

“I don’t think we can be certain that alcohol is necessarily the bad thing here — it could be a surrogate marker for something else — but clearly there is some kind of relationship.”

In other words, could it be, for example, that women who drink during pregnancy might be more likely to expose their sons to other potential hazards — or be exposed to such hazards themselves — that could impact testicle development or fertility? Whatever the missing dots in the connection between lower sperm count and maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, the researchers are hopeful this initial study opens the door for future research and a better understanding of the factors that influence the quality of semen.

Still, there are some limits to the study, as the British National Health Services (NHS) news site points out.

  • As the researchers say, ‘the participants were selected according to levels of maternal smoking during pregnancy’. Carrying out a post hoc analysis that was not the primary aim of the study increases the risk of chance findings. This may be particularly problematic in this instance as the initial research had a preference for selecting women who smoked and therefore may not have been a typical representative sample of pregnant women.
  • Although the cohort of pregnant women was very large (11,980), there were only a total of 347 sets of mothers and sons across the four categories of alcohol consumption analysed. With this small number there is a high possibility of chance findings, particularly with the association found for drinking more than 4.5 drinks a week as there were only 38 women and their sons in this category. The findings based on the analyses of these small numbers may be by chance.
  • Additionally, only half of the men invited to participate chose to do so. There may be important differences between the population studied and those who chose not to participate.
  • An association was found between higher and drink consumption and decreasing sperm concentration, semen volume and sperm count. However, these relationships were not completely clear, with the highest values being in sons of mothers who drank 1-1.5 drinks a week rather than in those who drank more or less than this. There was also no relationship with hormone levels, sperm motility or sperm morphology. Therefore the actual implications of these findings are not clear.
  • It is not known whether any of the differences in sperm quality seen across the groups would cause any actual fertility problems for the man.
  • Alcohol consumption was assessed at the end of pregnancy. It is unclear whether the answer reflected the whole of the pregnancy, or just at the time of assessment. Also with any assessment like this, the number of drinks and size and strength of a drink will mean different things to different people.
  • There is a possibility that other confounders have not been adjusted for or not fully adjusted. For example, the reporting of alcohol consumption by the men themselves was adjusted for but there may have been insufficient data to do this reliably.

In other words, a study is sometimes just a study.

Should pregnant women go celebrate with a glass of wine, then?  Not if they still want to decrease their chances of increased miscarriage and possibility of harm to the unborn child, according to the NHS.

Mini Roundup:  With new egg freezing technologies, lots of women can hold off on having children until later.  But hopefully they will chose to have them eventually, since apparently having children is like having a mini-Sherpa!

June 30, 2010

US bishops: Don’t permit abortions in military hospitals – Catholic Culture

Abortion: Last Resort For Hellish Morning Sickness – ABC News

Kagan Follows Precedent by Offering Few Opinions – New York Times

Should Kagan worry about her abortion record? – New York Post

Nebraska Is Banning Abortion on July 15, Unconstitutionally, Planned … – Courthouse News Service

Kagan Asked About Memo Manipulating ACOG Statement on Partial-Birth Abortion –

Hearing set on challenge to Neb. abortion law – NTV

Spain court will study challenge to abortion law – The Associated Press

Battling Over Abortion Funding in New Jersey – Before It’s News

Anti-abortion group attacks Rossi – Seattle Times

Reframing The Abortion Debate: Focus On Fetus – NPR

Kagan’s abortion compromise puts her in the American mainstream –

Pope gives top job to abortion hardliner – The Guardian

Hatch Questions Kagan on Abortion Stance – Wall Street Journal

Spain’s Supreme Court to Examine Abortion Law – AOL News

Kagan Defends Revising Medical Group’s Statement on Partial-Birth Abortion – FOXNews

Spanish court agrees to study whether streamlined abortion law is constitutional – The Canadian Press

Judge Bork to Weigh in on Kagan Nomination in Exclusive RSVP-Only News Event – Standard Newswire

Weekly Pulse: Kagan Hearings: Gags, God, Guns, and Gays – Campus Progress

Lawsuit Filed Against Anti-Choice NE Law – Ms. Magazine

Rick Scott Attacks Bill McCollum For Supporting “Pro-Abortion and Pro-Gay … – Miami New Times

Blog Buzz: Kagan on abortion and finreg –

Controversial Quebec cardinal gets top job –

Sen. Orrin Hatch questions Elena Kagan on partial-birth abortion – Deseret News

The male birth control pill is finally on the way –

It’s no wonder teen pregnancy’s up– The Exponent

Catholic church anger over abortion figures – Deadline Press & Picture Agency

Mass. School Superintendent Apologizes for Condom Policy Amid Nationwide Firestorm – FOXNews

Benefits of Parenting: It’s like having a little Sherpa – San Francisco Chronicle

Bayer unbranded effort aims to counter bad birth control info – Medical Marketing and Media

UN set to tackle HIV and the Law – Bay Today

VA Hospital May Have Exposed 1800 Vets to HIV – FOXNews

Economy Hurts Government Aid for HIV Drugs – New York Times

Hospital May Have Exposed Hundreds Of Veterans To HIV (VIDEO) – Huffington Post

Why HIV exposure at hospital may have happened – CNN

Young women put career ahead of motherhood – Irish Health

Sperm ‘changed by pregnant drinking’ – NHS Choices

Sharon Lerner: Why unpaid maternity leave isn’t enough – Capital Times

July 1, 2010

Kagan, the ACOG, and Partial Birth Abortions – Blogger News Network

Woman sentenced for Bennington crash that killed unborn twins – WTEN

Where New York’s not proud to lead – New York Post

Latest News Court rules women can’t be charged for taking drugs during pregnancy… – Behavioral Health


Majority wants Ottawa to consider funding abortions in developing nations: Poll – Vancouver Sun

Lawsuit Filed Over Unapproved Birth Control Devices – WLNE-TV

Arguments vs contraception – Manila Bulletin

Cuts To Calif. Breast Cancer Screening Program Remain; NJ Legislature Approves … – Medical News Today

Health Leaders Sound Alarm on Dual Crises of HIV, Discrimination among Gay Men – Africa Science News Service

Zulu king promotes circumcision to fight HIV/AIDS – CNN International

Home birth risks under scrutiny – BBC News

The politics of childbirth is all damn guilt and statistics –

Load More

Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

Thank you for reading Rewire!