The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, analysed data from 55 studies published between 1991 and 2019 including 41,747 babies with congenital heart disease and 297,587 without.
The findings revealed that men who drank alcohol three months before conception had a 44% raised risk of the baby being born with congenital heart disease, compared to not drinking.
Babies whose fathers binge-drank, defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting, were 52% more likely to have cardiac problems.
Mums-to-be who drank in the three months before conception or in the first three months of pregnancy were linked to a 16% higher chance of heart defects.
Commenting on the findings Dr Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University in Changsha, China said: “Binge-drinking by would-be parents is a high risk and dangerous behaviour that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly damages their own health.”
Researchers believe the results suggest that when couples are trying for a baby, men should not consume alcohol for at least six months before fertilisation while women should stop alcohol one year before and avoid it while pregnant.
“Parental alcohol exposures are significantly associated with the risk of congenital heart defects in offspring, which highlights the necessity of improving health awareness to prevent alcohol exposure during preconception and conception periods.”
However, before would-be-fathers ban the booze completely, the authors did note that this was an observational study and does not prove a causal effect, nor does it prove that paternal drinking is more harmful to the foetal heart than maternal drinking.
The data also cannot be used to define a cut-off of alcohol consumption that might be considered safe.
Dr Qin said: “The underlying mechanisms connecting parental alcohol and congenital heart diseases are uncertain and warrant further research. Although our analysis has limitations – for example the type of alcohol was not recorded – it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol.”
The NHS advises that for women planning to get pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
They suggest men trying for a baby should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, which should be spread evenly over three days or more to protect the quality of their sperm.