June 30th, 2010
11:29 AM ET

Drinking during pregnancy may hurt sons' fertility

Scientists have found another reason that women should avoid alcohol during pregnancy: It could affect their sons’ ability to father their own children in the future.

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

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.

She is the senior researcher at the Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and presented her research at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) conference in Rome on Tuesday.

Ramlau-Hansen says to her knowledge, this is the first study to see this kind of connection between maternal alcohol intake and “the future semen quality in sons.”

But she quickly adds that more research is needed to confirm these study results because this was just an observational study, which cannot conclusively say alcohol causes lower sperm concentrations.

Dr. Diane Ashton,  deputy medical director of the March of Dimes, isn’t surprised that alcohol would have an effect on male reproductive organs because other research has shown fetal exposure to alcohol can lead to birth defects and behavioral problems.

She says he findings of this study are significant enough to warrant more research.“It adds to the argument not to drink during pregnancy,” says Ashton.


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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Ballz

    Whatever it takes as long as the population numbers decrease

    June 30, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      I agree. There isn't a single problem mankind faces that wouldn't be greatly improved by a durable drop in human fertility. Even 1% would be a meaningful improvement.

      July 1, 2010 at 06:35 | Report abuse |
  2. Dave C

    Compared to the permanent genetic damage that can happen from a single drink at the wrong time in the fetus's development, lower sperm count is trivial. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome causes mental retardation and permanent brain damage. All it takes is one drink. Don't risk it.

    June 30, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • davec

      And you are the poster boy for FAS, are you?

      June 30, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
    • debbie

      ..then I would guess that a large majority of men would have issues since a large majority of pregnancy's probably happened because of too much alcohol at the time of conception 🙂

      June 30, 2010 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • Paul Ronco

      Frightening. I don't know much about this subject but I believe it.

      June 30, 2010 at 23:53 | Report abuse |
    • Krush

      Dave C, are you a health care professional? You know, like a doctor or nurse? If not, I have a hard time taking any medical advice from you.

      July 1, 2010 at 04:30 | Report abuse |
  3. KDW

    Dave C your assessment of how much alcohol it takes to cause FAS is incorrect. Studies show that only women who drink large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy have children with FAS. There is some indication that even small amounts of alcohol may cause changes in the brain. They are however not conclusive and that is why it is recommended that women not drink alcohol while pregnant. The most dangerous time to drink in pregnancy is during the first month when most women don't know they are pregnant. If one drink caused FAS then there would be a lot more people out there with the disorder.

    June 30, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ann

    This is a bit of poor, selective reporting. While the facts in the article are correct, the editor left out another significant conclusion of the study, that women who had only one to one and a half drinks per week had sons with higher sperm counts than those who completely abstained.

    June 30, 2010 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. questionauthority

    Why is it always Denmark that comes up with these studies?

    June 30, 2010 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul Ronco

      Because the Scandinavian countries are smart. They use their taxpayer dollars to fund, among many other things, research... not corporate-imperial wars of aggression and bank bailouts.

      June 30, 2010 at 23:55 | Report abuse |
    • Krush

      What else is there to do in Denmark besides drink, make babies, and do medical studies about both? It kind of reminds me of living in Minnesota.

      July 1, 2010 at 04:31 | Report abuse |
  6. Doctor Nobama

    I love babies! Thats why I wish the best for new-borns especially! Because they give you that warm soft feeling when you hold them in your arms! Especially when its a relative of the babies holding the infant!

    June 30, 2010 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Chris

    Darwin at work! Excellent. Pregnant Moms drink, make their sons less fertile. Perfect.

    June 30, 2010 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Try, Try Again

    Lower sperm count doesnt mean that a man will be unable to father a child. Higher sperm count doesnt guarentee a man will father a child. It only takes one sperm, maybe these guys with drunk moms will have to try harder.

    Also, it doesnt say at all if this study accounts for the males own drinking habits. I wonder if it occured to anyone doing the study that there might be a lot of alcohol in the home in which the mother was knocking down 5-6 drinks per week when she was pregnant? Im sure these ladies sons dont drink at all themselves, right? I have a feeling that the quality of care these boys were given and their current livestyles might have more to do with their sperm count.

    June 30, 2010 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Krush

      I think a good study of how much crack is smoked by bored medical researchers in Denmark would be a more interesting study 🙂

      July 1, 2010 at 04:33 | Report abuse |
    • Tafadzwa

      Let's say they double their value wtihin 4 years, so its 5M*1%=50K that's exactly what he's giving up in the first year, but they'll pay it back over 4 years. So if they really start paying market salary after 1 year, and double their value wtihin 4 years, his options are (almost) equally good. If he really believes they'll do considerably better than that, then A. He's too optimistic and B. Its not such a bad deal.But I generally agree that getting something closer to what the investor is getting is a better compensation for the risk he's taking.

      September 13, 2012 at 23:34 | Report abuse |
  9. andrea

    it's sad that some pregnant women have to be urged not to drink during pregnancy

    July 1, 2010 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Cherry

    I dnt knw abt this but i thnk my my grand mum was an adict yet my dad gave birth to me.nt just me,but 6 children.so more research is to be carried out on such case to draw conclusion

    July 1, 2010 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Zompopo

    above, each person will have to banalce the risk, the chance to do exciting work, etc I just think the risk is high and sometimes people forget that when they get Google and Amazon in the head every time they hear the word start-up . PS.: I was the first employee at a start-up without a good contract (learned afterwards) and when they started to make lots of money, I didn't see any so I can relate to founders being greedy when there is big money on the table.

    September 14, 2012 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.