Dads have an influence and can make a difference
A dad has a very important role in helping his partner have a healthy pregnancy. In fact, research shows that the father can make a big difference in the mother’s decision to drink or not drink when pregnant.
Most women in Canada (almost 9 in 10) do quit drinking when they find out they are pregnant. This helps the baby’s healthy growth and development. A dad can support his partner’s decision to quit.
There is a lot of confusing information about pregnancy and alcohol. Some people still think it is okay to drink when pregnant. The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute works hard to provide reliable and evidence based information.
Fathers play an important role in the prevention of FASD and raising healthy children.
Your drinking influences her drinking
Research shows that partners have similar drinking patterns. The exception is during pregnancy, when most women choose to stop drinking. Women find it more difficult to reduce or stop their drinking when their partner disagrees with the decision.
Most men don’t want to think about reducing their drinking. In fact, many dads-in-waiting are pleased that they will have a designated driver for evenings out that include alcohol.
Several studies show that if the father reduces or stops drinking, his partner is more likely to do the same. If he has drug and alcohol-related problems, she is almost 4 times more likely to drink alcohol. Research also shows 77% of women who drink during pregnancy, drink with their partners. Up to 75% of children born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) have biological fathers who are heavy drinkers. Men do have an influence.
Learn about pregnancy and alcohol
When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol passes through the placenta into the fetus’s bloodstream. The fetus has the same blood alcohol content (BAC) as the mother. The fetus’s liver is not fully formed or functioning and processes alcohol more slowly than the mother. The alcohol stays in the unborn baby’s body longer and has more time to affect the normal development of the growing cells.
Alcohol can change the structure of developing cells and interfere with how the cells work together and how they do their job. Alcohol is especially harmful to the cells in the brain and central nervous system. The brain develops all through pregnancy and controls basic functions such as breathing, sleeping, and heart rate to higher level functions such as thinking and reasoning.
The best time for a mom-to-be to stop drinking
The good news is that most women stop drinking when they learn they are pregnant. Unfortunately, it may take several weeks to confirm a pregnancy. If a woman is drinking during this time, her fetus is exposed to alcohol.
Parents may worry about how alcohol has affected their unborn baby. Alcohol can affect the part of the baby’s brain and body that is developing at the time the pregnant woman is drinking. Each day without alcohol is healthier for the baby.
50% of pregnancies are unplanned
In Canadian society, most men and women drink alcohol. Since half of pregnancies are not planned, many developing babies may be accidentally exposed to alcohol.
If a woman has sex with no birth control or ineffective birth control, she may become pregnant. It is best for her not to drink alcohol until she gets her period. If a pregnancy is confirmed, avoiding alcohol is safest for fetal development.
Can a father who drinks cause FASD?
The quick answer is no. Alcohol causes harm when it passes through the mother’s bloodstream to the developing fetus.
A father who drinks cannot cause an FASD; however, it does not mean he is off the hook. The dad can strongly affect the mom’s alcohol use before and during pregnancy. Fathers contribute to, or protect against, a mother’s drinking.
A father’s alcohol use may affect the quality of his sperm. For example, it can affect the sperm’s movement (motility). Some animal studies have shown that a male’s chronic drinking can affect his fertility, his DNA, and the DNA of his future child(ren). Research with human subjects has shown that children of fathers who drink may have challenges with:
- birth weight
- heart health
- learning and memory
- ability to deal with stress
How to help
Look at yourself
A man has a role in supporting his partner to have an alcohol-free pregnancy. Here are some things to think about.
- What kind of a partner do you want to be?
- How do you support her?
- Is your relationship healthy? (mutual respect, equality, trust, communication, and freedom)
- Does she feel safe talking to you?
- What kind of a father do you want to be?
- Are you ready to be a dad?
- How will you talk to her about pregnancy and alcohol without making her feel bad?
- Think about how you deal with conflict. Women who live with violence and abuse are more likely to drink to deal with it. Living in a stable home, and being in a safe, nurturing relationship protect against a pregnant woman drinking. The father has an important role in the home life and his alcohol use and behaviour contribute to the stability of the home.
Talk to your partner
It can be difficult to talk about pregnancy and alcohol. You can help by being compassionate, non-judgemental, and supportive. If a pregnant woman is drinking and feels judged, she may hide her drinking. That is not healthy for her or the baby.
Most women quit drinking during pregnancy. For some it is easy; for others, it’s not that simple. If your partner needs help to quit, explore options together.
- remembering her strengths, abilities, and efforts
- telling her what she is doing well and acknowledging her efforts
- not telling her what to do
Here are some ways to start a conversation:
- “What could make it easier to stop drinking or reduce drinking?”
- “How can I help?”
As a father, you are a partner. Women, who participated in a focus group defining an ideal partner, highlighted a sense of “togetherness” during the pregnancy.
Give up drinking for 9 days or 2 weeks or more
If you stop drinking for a period of time, it can help you understand what it is like for her to quit. It could make it easier to support her. Perhaps you can join her for the whole 9 months.
Make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks available
Try some of these!
Choose activities that don’t involve drinking
There are many things to do that don’t involve drinking.
- Hosting a non-alcoholic games night
- Going for a walk
- Being a volunteer
- Watching TV
- Attending a cooking class together
- Going to a movie
- Having a potluck supper with friends
- Giving her a massage
Order ‘This is Why’ posters and information cards
Links to other resources about how to support your partner.
- Abel, E. L. (1983). Marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and reproduction. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
- Abel, E. 2004. Paternal contribution to fetal alcohol syndrome. Addiction Biology 9(2), 127-133; discussion 135-136.
- Alio, A. P., Lewis, C. A., Scarborough, K., Harris K., & Fiscella, K. (2013). A community perspective on the role of fathers during pregnancy: a qualitative study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 13, 60.doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-60.
- Astley, S. J., Bailey, D., Talbot, C., & Clarren, S. K. (2000). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) primary prevention through FAS diagnosis: II. A comprehensive profile of 80 birth mothers of children with FAS. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 35, 509-519.
- Bakhireva, L. N., Wilsnack, S. C., Kristjanson, A., Yevtushok, L., Onishenko, S., Wertelecki, W., & Chambers, C. D. (2011). Paternal drinking, intimate relationship quality, and alcohol consumption in pregnant Ukrainian women. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72, 536-544.
- Burd, L., Otsonas-Hassler, T. M., Martsolf, J. T., & Kerbeshian, J. (2003). Recognition and management of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Neurotoxicology & Teratology, 25, 681-688.
- Burgess, A. (2008). Maternal and infant health in the perinatal period: the father’s role. Retrieved from www.fatherhoodinstitute.org
- Chang, G., McNamara, T. K., Orav, E. J., & Wilkins-Haug, L. (2006). Alcohol Use by Pregnant Women: Partners, Knowledge, and Other Predictors. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(2), 245-251.
- Cicero, T. J. (1994). Effects of paternal exposure to alcohol on offspring development. Alcohol, Health & Research World, 18, 37-41.
- Gearing, R., McNeill, T., & Lozier, F. (2005). Father involvement and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: Developing best practices. Journal of FAS International, 3, 1-11.
- Gearing, R. E., Selkirk, E. K., Koren, G., Leslie, M., Motz, M., Zelazo, L. B., McNeill, T., & Lozier, F. A. (2008) Perspectives of Mothers with Substance Use Problems on Father Involvement. Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 15.
- Leonardson, G. R. & Loudenburg, R. (2003). Risk factors for alcohol use during pregnancy in a multistate area. Neurotoxicology & Teratology, 25, 651-658.
- Ouko, L. A., Shantikumar, K., Knezovich, J., Haycock, P., Schnugh, D. J., & Ramsay, M. (2009). Effect of Alcohol Consumption on CpG Methylation in the Differentially Methylated Regions of H19 and IG-DMR in Male Gametes – Implications for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 33, 1615-1627.
- Passaro, K. T., Little, R. E., Savits, D. A., & Noss, J. (1998). Effect of paternal alcohol consumption before conception on infant birth weight. ALSPAC Study Team. Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood. Teratology, 57 (6), 294-301.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.) Effects of Alcohol on the Developing Embryo and Fetus. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from www.fasdcenter.samhsa.gov
- Teitler, J. O. (2001). Father involvement, child health and maternal health behavior. Children and Youth Services Review, 23, 403-425.
- Waterson, E. J., Evans, C., & Murray-Lyon, I. M. (1990). Is pregnancy a time of changing drinking and smoking patterns for fathers as well as mothers? An initial investigation. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 389-396.