Alcohol and Conception: Should You Stop Drinking?
When you’re in baby-making mode, you read a lot of advice about how to increase your chances of conceiving. Some people recommend cutting out alcohol completely, even before you become pregnant. But will that really increase your fertility?
In this post, we will outline the evidence for and against drinking while trying to conceive. If you choose to stop or cut down on your drinking, we’ve also listed several helpful tips.
Studies on Alcohol and Conception
The bottom line: The evidence surrounding whether alcohol affects pregnancy is conflicting.
A 2016 Danish study investigated the fertility of 6,120 women ranging from 21-45 who were trying to conceive. Researchers found that women who consumed the highest amount of alcohol (14 or more drinks per week) were 18% less likely to conceive. However, the study concluded that consuming less than 14 drinks per week didn’t seem to affect fertility.
Dr. Annie Britton from University College London noted in an editorial that, “Total abstinence may not be necessary to maximize conception rates… if alcohol is consumed moderately, it seems that this may not affect fertility.”
The study also categorized the women’s drink of choice: Beer, wine or spirits. Which type of alcohol they consumed didn’t seem to make any difference.
Another study evaluated the fertility of couples who had gone through three IVF cycles with no success. Researchers found that, over the course of three years, women who didn’t drink alcohol had a 90% chance of conceiving. This is compared to women who had 3 glasses of wine per week and who had only a 30% chance of conceiving. Researchers say that alcohol likely poses the same risk for couples trying to conceive naturally.
Some critics of the study question whether alcohol affects fertility or if people who drink are more likely to be stressed, making elevated stress hormones the real cause.
Conversely, a 2001 study found that moderate drinking may help a woman become pregnant. Women who don’t drink at all may have a harder time conceiving than women who consume up to two alcoholic drinks per day.
However, researchers are quick to note that alcohol does not improve fertility. Instead, women who drink alcohol are more likely to have frequent sex. In this way, alcohol isn’t improving the body physically, but psychologically.
Dr. Peter Bowen-Simpkin, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK, told the BBC that he always encourages women to have a glass of wine before bed to help relax, possibly leading to baby making.
Even if alcohol encourages intercourse, it may increase the risk of early pregnancy loss. A 2004 study documented the pregnancy successes of 430 Danish couples. Researchers found that if females drank alcohol the week of conception, spontaneous abortion was 2-3 times more likely. If males consumed alcohol, pregnancy loss was 2-5 times more likely.
Some prescription medications can also be harmful or potentially fatal to fetuses. A pregnant woman or a woman who is trying to conceive should ask her doctor about any medications she is using or she might be using in the future.
Alcohol and Male Fertility
Ladies, you’re not the only one who needs to consider alcohol’s impact. After reading about how alcohol affects male fertility, your partner may also want to cut back.
A 2014 study found that drinking 5 alcoholic drinks every week could reduce sperm quality. The more alcohol a man drank, the lower quality his sperm was, according to the research.
In the 2004 study mentioned above, researchers found that if the father drank alcohol the week of conception, pregnancy loss may be more likely than if the mother were to drink.
Studies also show that heavy alcohol consumption leads to reduced testosterone levels and decreased production of two hormones essential for reproduction. If a man drinks heavily, it may cause erectile dysfunction and liver disease, which can also lead to reproduction issues.
A 2012 study contradicted these findings and concluded that drinking alcohol was unrelated to male fertility.
Is It Okay to Drink During Conception?
With contradicting studies, it can be difficult to decide whether you and your partner should cut out alcohol to conceive quicker. Some studies suggest abstaining from alcohol completely, while others conclude that sticking to under 14 drinks a week is unlikely to affect fertility.
One fact researchers can generally agree on is that heavy drinking during conception is never a good idea. Alcohol can affect your liver and since your liver plays a role in hormone function, it can negatively impact your fertility in large quantities.
Some people also note that drinking too frequently is linked to other bad habits, such as poor diet, lack of exercise and weight gain — all of which can impact fertility. In addition, heavy drinking is linked to ovulation disorders. Ovulation disorders are the cause of infertility in about 25% of couples.
If you want to play it safe or wish to conceive quickly, abstaining from alcohol completely may be the best idea. At the very least, you and your partner should avoid heavy or binge drinking.
Tips to Stop Drinking Alcohol or Lower Your Consumption
If you’re someone who enjoys a daily glass of wine or who binges on alcohol during a party, abstaining from drinking or cutting down could be difficult and may require some lifestyle changes. Here are a few tips.
- Decide which days are okay to drink. If you just want to cut down on your alcohol consumption, decide which days you can drink and abstain from alcohol the rest of the days. Many people choose to only drink on weekends or on their days off work.
- Set a date. When do you want to stop or cut down your drinking? Are you looking to try to start conceiving now? Or do you have a couple of months to wean yourself off of drinking? Having a start date will help you commit to your goal.
- Only drink socially. Only drink at social gatherings rather than at-home. Instead of having a nightly glass of wine with your partner, make a pact to only drink when you go out to a restaurant.
- Drink slowly. When you do drink, make an effort to sip slowly. Always keep a large glass of water nearby. That way, if you’re thirsty, you’ll drink water instead of guzzling down a beer.
- Set a limit. If you go out for a night, limit yourself to only a few drinks. An easier way to do this is to consume only one drink per hour.
- Start new hobbies. If you’re looking to cut out drinking completely, replace the situations that make you drink with new activities. For example, if you drink every Saturday night when you go out with friends, suggest a new activity, like taking a class or making a meal at home. If you and your partner are both cutting out alcohol, find new activities to do together.
- Deal with stress. If you find that stress is driving you to drink, find a healthier way to cope. Some ideas include exercise, meditation, massage, journaling or seeing a therapist. For more ways, check out our guide listing 9 Ways to De-stress While Trying to Conceive.
- Cut out triggers. Is there anything or anyone that causes you to drink? For example, if your group of friends are out partying every night, it may be time to find better influences. If you give into social pressure easily, avoid going to places where people are drinking.
- Distract yourself. If you’re someone who drinks at home, try to distract yourself every time you feel an urge. Take a walk, clean your house or call up your best friend. Taking your mind off of drinking for even a few minutes could be enough for the urge to pass.
- Try mocktails. If you’re someone who enjoys a sweet, fruity drink, try making a mocktail instead. Ordering a mocktail at a restaurant or bar will also make it appear as if you’re drinking, making it less likely that your friends will hassle you into drinking.
- Think of the positives. Giving up or cutting down on your drinking can be difficult, so reminding yourself of the reasons why you’re doing it is essential. Visualize yourself seeing a positive pregnancy test, telling everyone the good news and finally giving birth to your beautiful baby. It will help you see that the effort is worth it.
- Other reasons to stop drinking. Stopping or minimizing drinking may help you conceive, but there are also many other benefits. These benefits may include better sleep, better digestion, better focus and mental function, weight loss, less brain fog and a healthier liver and heart.
- Healthy lifestyle. While you’re cutting out or cutting down on alcohol, it may be helpful to completely redesign your lifestyle. Making efforts to eat healthier, get exercise and clear your head can make alcohol easier to quit — and also increase your chances of conceiving!
- Get help. If you have or suspect you have an addiction to alcohol, it’s best to seek help. Seeing a counselor is a good first step. They can recommend the best treatment options for you. Seeking support from close friends and family and building a sober network can also be helpful.
Are you abstaining from alcohol while trying to conceive? If you are, comment your tips below! If you have any friends trying to conceive, share this post to help them, too!
P.S. All the efforts you make to try to conceive will be worth it once you hear the heartbeat of your baby. Our fetal dopplers are pocket-sized devices that allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat while still inside the womb. Check out our affordable dopplers here.