Drinking alcohol three months before pregnancy or during the first trimester was associated with a 44% raised risk of congenital heart disease for fathers and 16% for mothers.
If you're planning to have a baby, researchers recommend quitting alcohol six months before conception.
Drinking alcohol three months before pregnancy or during the first trimester was associated with a 44% raised risk of congenital heart disease for fathers and 16% for mothers, compared to not drinking.
Binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks per sitting, was related to a 52% higher likelihood of these birth defects for men and 16% for women.
"Binge drinking by would-be parents is 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," said study author Dr Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China.
Dr Qin said 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.
Congenital heart diseases are the most common birth defects, with approximately 1.35 million babies affected every year, reported the study published in the journal 'European Journal of Preventive Cardiology'.
These conditions can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease later life, even after surgical treatment, and are the main cause of prenatal death.
Alcohol is a known teratogen and has been connected with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Around one in four children with FASD have congenital heart disease, indicating that alcohol might also be implicated in these disorders.
Previous studies investigating the link between alcohol and congenital heart disease have focused on prospective mothers, with inconclusive results.
This is the first meta-analysis to examine the role of paternal alcohol drinking.
The analysis of the data showed a nonlinear dose-response relationship between parental alcohol drinking and congenital heart diseases.
"We observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased. The relationship was not statistically significant at the lower quantities," said Dr Qin.
Regarding specific defects, the study found that compared to abstinence, maternal drinking was correlated to a 20% greater risk of tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of four abnormalities in the heart's structure.