Women have long been urged not to drink while pregnant, but new research suggests that drinking at the time of conception could also be risky.
Queensland researchers have found women who drink about four standard drinks per day around the time of conception were more likely to put a male child at higher risk of obesity.
University of Queensland PhD student Emily Dorey said the studies, done on rats, found male offspring conceived while their mother was affected by alcohol were more likely to seek a high fat diet in later life.
“These rats were given a diet of alcohol around the time of conception and then we studied the offspring as they aged and monitored the changes that occurred,” she said.
“When given a choice between the normal standard chow diet and that high in fat and cholesterol, they continued to consume [the fatty] diet.
“It was quite surprising that there was such a marked difference in the food consumption of the offspring when they were quite a bit older.”
The study found the alcohol was likely to affect a woman’s placenta before birth, leading to the different dietary choices of the offspring.
Drinking while conceiving did not appear to have the same effect on female children.
Ms Dorey said the research was significant because drinking during conception or while trying to get pregnant was common.
“With the rate of unplanned pregnancies in Australia and the rate that Australians drink, there is a very large percentage of pregnancies that are being exposed to alcohol in this very early period,” she said.
“I think it’s a really important message to get out that around conception. We can have lasting effects on our offspring.”
But Ms Dorey said it would be difficult to conduct the study on humans.
“There’s so many outside influences as you grow,” she said.
The amount of alcohol consumed during conception did not affect the rat offspring’s own attachment to alcohol later in life.