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Can I Drink Alcohol When Trying to get Pregnant?

by Katelyn

Alcoholic beverages. We all know you should never drink alcohol while pregnant. But what about before getting pregnant? When you’re trying to conceive? Let’s take a deep-dive into how alcohol can really mess with your fertility.

Part 1. The Ultimate Fertility Diet: What To Eat When Trying to Conceive
Part 2. Meat, Poultry, Fish, Tofu: Which Protein is Best and Which is Worst for Fertility?
Part 3. Definitive Guide to Fats That HELP Fertility: Omega-3 and Other Fatty Acids
Part 4. Definitive Guide to Fats That HURT Fertility: Saturated Fats and Other Fats
Part 5. Sugar and Other Carbs Suck When Trying to Conceive
Part 6. Artificial Sweeteners When Trying to Conceive or Pregnant: Bad Idea?
Part 7. Two Reasons Coffee is Bad When Trying For a Baby
Part 8. Can I Drink Alcohol When Trying to get Pregnant?
Part 9. Dairy Can Help You Get Pregnant – Everything You Need to Know
Part 10. 10 Fertility Diet Tips to Implement Today

 

Alcohol and pregnancy

Alcohol when pregnant: don't

It has been known for a very long time that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is to be avoided: it negatively impacts embryo growth and embryo development.1

To name a few other depressing statistics, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption in early pregnancy can lead to increased rates of spontaneous abortion, decreased length and weight of the baby, growth abnormalities and neurobehavioral deficits.1,2

Because of these risks, government agencies around the world warn women of the dangers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says: There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. In other words: avoid alcohol completely.

But even with governments and doctors warning against the dangers of alcohol consumption in early pregnancy, more than 10% of women don’t quit drinking alcohol after finding out they are pregnant.4,5

I know that you will do everything in your power to get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby (after all, you’re reading this article!), and that means no binge drinking during pregnancy! But if alcohol can negatively influence embryo growth, does it also negatively influence your fertility, for example, by screwing with egg quality?

 

Alcohol and fertility

Alcohol and fertility

In may come as a surprise, but large population studies are not in complete agreement on whether alcohol consumption before pregnancy is detrimental to achieving pregnancy in the first place!

One study found a link between moderate alcohol use and increased risk of both endometriosis, which is related to infertility, and a link with moderate alcohol use and anovulatory infertility.6 In other words, alcohol use could be linked to irregular cycles or even cycles without ovulation at all!

Other studies found a decline in the ability to conceive even in women who only consume just a few drinks per week.7,8

On the other hand, some studies fail to find any link between pre-pregnancy alcohol intake and the ability to conceive!9,10 And these are not just random findings either, some of these studies looked at tens of thousands of women, and still find no, or very weak associations between alcohol intake and fertility.11 For example, in the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers found that low to moderate alcohol consumption in the years preceding conception did not increase the chance of miscarriage.11,12

Taken together, most studies suggest that low alcohol consumption before pregnancy initiation does not affect the risk of early pregnancy loss, and that low alcohol use is not linked to infertility. But again, not all studies are in agreement.

 

Enter IVF studies

IVF studies: does alcohol impair fertility?

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging there! Just because there’s no clear-cut consensus from population studies on whether pre-pregnancy alcohol can derail your chances of conceiving, we do have another ace up our sleeve: IVF studies.

Researchers looking at the success rates among women undergoing in vitro fertilization have a unique and very important advantage over population studies: a controlled environment. These IVF studies are much shorter in length, so women don’t have to try to remember what alcoholic beverages they drank 3 years ago. IVF studies can also make sure that women take certain medications, and undergo the exact same medical procedures. And let’s not forget that they get a sneak peak at the very early developing embryo.

Of course, IVF studies are smaller in scale, you won’t find 20,000 women participating because that’s simply not feasible, but the conclusions we can draw from IVF studies are much stronger because the data is of much higher quality.

 

Avoid alcohol before conception?

Just like the population studies, IVF studies consistently show that low to moderate alcohol consumption does not influence the ability to conceive. But alcohol consumption in the weeks right before the IVF cycle… Now that’s a different story!

One of the first studies looking specifically at IVF outcomes and alcohol consumption was conducted in California in 2003.13 Researchers found that women who consumed 1 or more drinks per day in the year preceding the IVF attempt, had slightly fewer (13% to be exact) eggs retrieved than women who drink little to no alcohol.

This is something other IVF studies have found too: drinking alcohol in the year before actually going through IVF doesn’t have a huge impact on success.14 But, the closer you get to the IVF procedure, the more important abstaining from alcohol becomes.

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Listen carefully to this: One or more drinks per day in the month before IVF decreases the odds of a successful IVF attempt by 2.9 times! And in cases where women have 1 or more alcoholic beverages in the same week as the IVF attempt… the risk of not becoming pregnant is 4 times higher! And even in women who did become pregnant, miscarriage rates were also higher if they consumed alcohol in the week before the IVF attempt!

To put it differently, drinking alcohol one year before trying to become pregnant doesn’t seem to matter much, but drinking alcohol within a month before trying to become pregnant results in substantially lower odds of becoming pregnant. And drinking alcohol 1 week before trying to conceive doubles the odds of miscarriage.13

This leads to be believe one thing:

The closer you are to trying to conceive, the more important it is to cut out alcohol. 

So if you are ovulating next week (find out how you can know this) then stop drinking alcohol right now.

 

Not convinced yet?

More recent IVF studies find similar detrimental effects of alcohol when they occur close to an IVF attempt. In a recent Harvard study, researchers divided classified women by their alcohol consumption right before starting their first IVF cycle. They found that daily drinkers had twice the risk of a miscarriage after becoming pregnant.15

Yet another large study conducted at a Boston area IVF clinics found that higher alcohol consumption at the start of treatment was associated with lower estrogen levels, 48% lower odds of egg fertilization, and 21% lower rates of live birth.16

I can keep going, but I think you get the idea. Alcohol close to conception is bad.

Now, this evidence comes mostly from IVF studies and it can be difficult to extrapolate IVF studies to people trying to conceive naturally. But all these studies paint a pretty clear picture, I’d say.

 

Alcohol and the male perspective

male partner alcohol drink fertility

For all you ladies following along, I want to let you know that like with so many other things it’s not all just on you.

Your male partner should cut back alcohol consumption as well! After all, you need healthy sperm, otherwise the egg can’t be fertilized properly! And I’m not just making this up either! Researchers found that in an IVF setting the odds of a live birth was 35% lower in cases where the male partner drinks one alcoholic beverage per day.16

If all that you’ve read so far seems depressing to you (no more Margarita’s!!??!?), these studies are actually very reassuring!

Think about it! you should never drink alcohol while pregnant anyway, and alcohol use right before trying to get pregnant is probably detrimental to your fertility, but once you stop and give your body a little bit of time to reset, your fertility can bounce back.

 

 

References

1. Hanson, J. W., Streissguth, A. P., & Smith, D. W. (1978). Journal of Pediatrics, 92(3), 457–460.
2. Floyd, R. L., Decouflé, P., & Hungerford, D. W. (1999). Am J Preventive Medicine, 17(2), 101–107.
3. Hanson, J. W., Streissguth, A. P., & Smith, D. W. (1978). Journal of Pediatrics, 92(3), 457–460.
4. McCormack, C., Hutchinson, D., Burns, L. et al. (2017). Alcoholism, 41(2), 369–378.
5. Tan, C. H., Denny, C. H., Cheal, N. E. et al. (2015). Morb and Mort Weekly Rep, 64(37), 1042–1046.
6. Grodstein, F., Goldman, M. B., & Cramer, D. W. (1994). Am J Public Health, 84(9), 1429–1432.
7. Greenlee, A. R., Arbuckle, T. E., & Chyou, P.-H. (2003). Epidemiology , 14(4), 429–436.
8. Jensen, T. K., Hjollund, N. H., Henriksen, T. B. et al.(1998). BMJ , 317(7157), 505–510.
9. Curtis, K. M., Savitz, D. A., & Arbuckle, T. E. (1997). Am J Epidemiology, 146(1), 32–41.
10. Olsen, J., Bolumar, F., Boldsen, J. et al. (1997). Alcoholism, 21(2), 206–212.
11. Juhl, M., Nyboe Andersen, A. M. et al. (2001). Human Reproduction , 16(12), 2705–2709.
12. Gaskins, A. J., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Williams, P. L., et al.(2015). J Nutrition, 146(4), 799–805.
13. Klonoff-Cohen, H., Lam-Kruglick, P., & Gonzalez, C. (2003). Fertility and Sterility, 79(2), 330–339.
14. Abadia, L.,-H. Chiu, Y., Williams, P. L. et al. 2017). Human Reproduction 32(9), 1846–1854.
15. Dodge, L. E., Missmer, S. A., Thornton, K. L. et al. (2017). J Assis Repr Gen, 34(7), 877–883.
16. Rossi, B. V., Berry, K. F., Hornstein, M. D. et al.(2011). Obstetrics and Gynecology, 117(1), 136–142.

 

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Hi, I’m Katelyn!

Mom, scientist, and fertility nerd extraordinaire. 

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