Women can make their children more vulnerable to diabetes by drinking heavily even before they become pregnant, new research suggests.
American scientists have said binge drinking before conception could make children more likely to have high blood sugar and other changes in glucose function.
While the effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on babies are well known, including possible birth defects and learning difficulties, far less is understood about the effects of alcohol before pregnancy begins.
These changes could have lifelong effects on the offspring's glucose function and possibly increase their susceptibility to diabetes.
Ali Al-Yasari, Rutgers University
For women, binge drinking is defined as the equivalent of four or more drinks in about two hours.
Researchers at the Rutgers University conducted the study in rats, whose basic processes of glucose function are similar to those in humans.
For four weeks, they gave female rats a diet containing 6.7 per cent alcohol, which raised their blood alcohol levels to those of binge drinking in humans.
Alcohol was then removed from the rats' diet, and they were bred three weeks later, equal to several months in humans.
Adult offspring of these rats were compared with the offspring of rats that didn't receive alcohol before conception.
The researchers found that the offspring of rats exposed to alcohol before conception had several signs of abnormal glucose function.
The findings were presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Study co-author Ali Al-Yasari said: “These findings suggest that the effects of a mother's alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring.
"These changes could have lifelong effects on the offspring's glucose function and possibly increase their susceptibility to diabetes."
NHS advice states that drinking alcohol, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and the baby being born with a low birthweight.
The advice acknowledges, however, that experts are do not know exactly how much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy, so says the “safest approach” is to not drink at all.