Dad's occupation could have role in child's birth defects


(CBS News) A study that looks at father's careers shows that dads' occupations may have an effect on birth defects in their offspring.

A study based on findings from the ongoing National Birth Defects Prevention Study shows that certain paternal jobs may be linked to an increased risk of birth defects in their children.

Researchers spoke to about 1,000 fathers who had a child with one or more defects and 4,000 fathers who had a child with no defects from 1997 to 2002. Through phone interviews with the father and their partners, they found out what abnormalities the child had, including if the baby was stillborn, if it was aborted for medical reasons and if it had defects when it was born.

They also asked what the father's job was three months before conception and after the first month of pregnancy, which is considered to be the period where sperm is most likely to pass on defects. Most of the dads had only one job during the time period, with the majority of jobs in the management/admin; sales; and the construction industry.

While a third of the jobs did not seem to be associated with increases in birth defects - including architects and designers, healthcare professionals, firemen, smelters and foundry workers and glassblowers - other jobs had a stronger relationship with having a child with a birth defect in three or more categories.

Fathers, including those who were mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists; landscapers and groundsmen; hairdressers and make-up artists and crane operators and diggers, were more likely to have children with birth defects. More specifically artists were more likely to have children with mouth, eyes and ears, gut, limbs, and heart defects, and photographers and photo processors had more children with cataracts, glaucoma, and absence of or insufficient eye tissue defects. Drivers had more children who had an absence of or insufficient eye tissue or glaucoma, while landscapers and groundsmen had offspring with a higher prevalence of gut abnormalities.

But, lead researcher Tania Desrosiers, from the Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, cautioned that people shouldn't jump to cause conclusions. She told HealthDay that although the information sounds worrisome most of the diseases are still very rare. For example, congenital glaucoma only affects one in 10,000 infants. Desrosiers added that the researchers aren't saying that men should change jobs, but rather take more precautions in the workplace.

The report was published on July 9 in Occupation and Environmental Medicine.

It's not just the dad's job that puts their offspring at risk. In a study published July 17 in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, researchers discovered that if a mother was exposed to organic solvents, there was an association with her child having congenital heart defects.

The study looked at 5,000 women exposed to solvents in their workplace while early in their pregnancy during 1997 to 2002. All the women participated in the National Birth Defects Prevention Survey. They determined that four percent of women whose babies had no defects and five percent of women whose babies had defects were exposed to organic solvents at that time. Factoring other studies, the numbers went up to 8 to 10 percent repectively.

While exposure to solvents could increase risk of having a child with a heart defect by 60 to 70 percent, researcher Suzanne Gilboa, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, added to HealthDay that the absolute risk was very low, averaging out to about one in 1,000 births or less. Also, because a lot of the exposure is self-reported, there could be a discrepancy in how many women were actually exposed to the solvents at the early stages of their pregnancy.

"We are not ready to say solvents cause heart defects, but there seems to be some suggestion that occupational exposure to solvents is a risk factor for some heart defects," Gilboa said.