5th Feb 2024

If you’re trying to conceive or are thinking about starting a family soon, you may have heard that alcohol and fertility don’t mix. Studies1 have suggested that heavy drinking while trying to get pregnant can have negative consequences on both female and male fertility. But how much is too much? Can alcohol prevent pregnancy even if you only drink occasionally? In this article, we’ll look at the science of alcohol and fertility to help you understand the effects of drinking when trying to conceive. We’ll also offer some practical tips for how to avoid alcohol to improve your fertility and reduce the risk of potential complications. 

Can You Drink While Trying to Get Pregnant?

You can drink in moderation while trying to get pregnant.2 For most people, this means3 having two drinks or fewer in a day if you’re a man and one drink or less in a day if you’re a woman. However, there are several reasons why you might want to abstain from drinking alcohol altogether during this phase. 

For starters, drinking too much can lead to many different health problems, whether you’re trying to get pregnant or not. Alcohol consumption can interfere with the communication pathways in your brain,4 leading to disruptions in mood, behavior, and cognitive function. Trying to conceive can be a stressful time for some people, and drinking alcohol has been shown to worsen anxiety.5 So, if you’re struggling with emotional stress while trying to get pregnant, it may be a good idea to take a break from alcohol. 

Additionally, heavy drinking can make your liver become fatty and thick,6 leading to an accumulation of fibrous tissue that restricts blood flow. This can cause your liver cells to become malnourished, resulting in organ malfunction. Furthermore, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the electrical signals that regulate your heart’s rhythm, potentially causing permanent damage,7 which can reduce your heart’s ability to circulate blood effectively and negatively impact every aspect of your overall health.

Another issue with alcohol and fertility is that if you drink and do become pregnant, you may risk unintentionally exposing your baby to alcohol. And since there is no known safe amount of alcohol for a developing fetus,8 the safest approach is simply to avoid it. This includes all types of alcohol, including wine, wine coolers, cocktails, beer, and liquor. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Fertility?

Alcohol can impact fertility in both men and women, with its effects influenced by factors such as the amount and frequency of consumption. For example, heavy drinking can lead to loss of libido in women9 and men,10 which can make it more difficult to conceive. Drinking alcohol regularly can also make you gain weight,11 making it harder to get pregnant. 

Alcohol and Female Fertility

Excessive alcohol intake can impact both your reproductive system and hormonal balance. Here are some of the ways drinking too much alcohol may get in the way of your plans of getting pregnant:

Menstrual cycle disruption: Heavy alcohol consumption can disrupt your menstrual cycle. Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, can lead to an increase in estrogen and a decrease in progesterone.12 It can also change levels13 of estradiol, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone. These processes can disrupt normal hormonal behaviors necessary for regular ovulation.

Increased risk of early pregnancy loss: While evidence is not conclusive regarding how alcohol affects implantation, some research14 suggests that drinking alcohol during the implantation phase can prevent proper implantation and may increase the chances of early pregnancy loss. The implantation phase is a critical stage in early pregnancy that occurs 6-12 days after fertilization when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. 

Worsening PCOS: Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder affecting an estimated 8-13% of women of reproductive age.15 It’s characterized by imbalances in reproductive hormones, leading to symptoms such as irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and elevated levels of male hormones (androgens). While women living with PCOS can and do get pregnant with and without reproductive assistance, those with PCOS have a lower natural conception rate. This is because PCOS can lead to irregular ovulation or anovulation (lack of ovulation), which can contribute to fertility challenges. If you’re living with PCOS, it’s essential to be aware that excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS. Plus, since PCOS and heavy drinking independently disrupt ovulation and cycle regularity, when combined, their effects may compound, making it more challenging to conceive. 

Reduced egg quality: Heavy alcohol consumption can significantly affect egg quality, making them less likely to fertilize successfully. This can be particularly problematic for women who are undergoing fertility treatment, as studies have shown13 that alcohol consumption can negatively impact the success rate of egg retrieval and fertilization. According to a research study16 conducted on women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), alcohol intake during the treatment led to the production of poorer-quality embryos, which could potentially affect the overall success of the procedure.

Alcohol and Male Fertility

Although fertility and conception are often thought of as a woman’s issue, up to 50% of infertility issues17 can be attributed to male factors. This means that it’s just as critical for men to consider their lifestyle habits, including alcohol consumption when it comes to planning a pregnancy. 

While it may not be necessary to quit drinking altogether, reducing weekly alcohol intake can improve sperm quality. It’s essential to keep in mind that the sperm life cycle, or spermatogenesis, takes around 74 days,18so men should expect to see an improvement in any alcohol-related fertility concerns after about three months of no drinking or drinking less. Here’s how alcohol consumption can impact male fertility:

Reduced sperm quality: A study published in BMJ Open19 looking at men ages 18-28 found that regular drinking was associated with lower sperm quality. The study found that the more weekly units of alcohol the participants consumed, the lower the sperm quality, particularly in men who drank 25 or more alcohol units each week — roughly the equivalent of 15 pints of beer.

Hormonal imbalances: Alcohol can reduce testosterone levels.20 Testosterone is a sex hormone that affects how the male body functions. Having lower levels of testosterone can reduce the quantity and quality of sperm, lower libido, and increase the risk for erectile dysfunction.

Erectile Dysfunction: Frequent alcohol consumption can lead to erectile dysfunction21 in men, which is characterized by difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection. This is because alcohol can depress the central nervous system and suppress coordination and motor abilities, which can interfere with the communication between the brain and the penis. 

5 Tips to Avoid Drinking While Trying to Conceive

The encouraging news is that the majority of risks linked to alcohol consumption and fertility are reversible simply by abstaining while attempting to conceive. Occasional drinks for special events are generally not problematic in the period leading up to pregnancy. However, it’s essential to remember thatbetter health outcomes for babies begin before conception.22If you’re trying to avoid alcohol or cut down consumption while trying for a baby, here are some tips that might help:

Enlist Support 

Reducing your alcohol intake can be challenging, especially when you’re around friends or family who enjoy a drink or two. To help you stay on track, consider enlisting a sober buddy — maybe your partner or a friend who is also looking to cut down on their alcohol intake. Having someone who shares your goals can help make this journey a lot easier! 

Avoid Temptations

Identify the feelings, people, or places that make you want to drink and do your best to avoid them. For example, if you’re used to unwinding with alcohol, replace that habit with something else, like a warm bath, reading, or watching a TV show rather than pouring yourself a drink. 

Find Non-Alcoholic Alternatives

These days, there are plenty of alternatives for non-alcoholic beverages. Consider trying their alcohol-free counterparts if you’re used to ordering beer, wine, or cocktails. You can find a variety of mocktails and non-alcoholic drinks at most bars and restaurants. Plus, there are tons of recipes available online and on social media that you can explore and experiment with at home.

Educate Yourself

While navigating the journey of conception, it's essential to balance information intake without feeling overwhelmed. Educating yourself about the risks of drinking during pregnancy and its potential harm to your baby can reinforce your commitment to abstain from alcohol. However, always ensure the information comes from reliable sources. If it becomes too much, don't hesitate to take a break from your digital devices and prioritize your well-being.

Track Your Progress

Keep yourself motivated as you reduce your alcohol intake by focusing on the positive outcomes. Take note of the financial savings from not purchasing alcohol at stores or bars. Additionally, observe the health benefits and increased energy levels you may experience from reducing your alcohol intake, which can further encourage your commitment to a healthier lifestyle.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

If you find it particularly challenging to reduce or stop your alcohol consumption, it might be beneficial to seek professional help. There's no shame in needing assistance – it's a sign of strength to recognize when you need support beyond your immediate network. Health professionals, such as doctors, therapists, or specialized counselors, can provide valuable guidance and strategies tailored to your individual needs. They can also help address any underlying issues related to alcohol use and offer coping mechanisms that are healthy and effective. 

Remember, taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle not only benefits you but also creates the best possible environment for a future pregnancy. Seeking help is an important part of self-care and a positive step towards your goal of starting or growing your family.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Fertility

When should I stop drinking before trying to conceive?

While there is no set timeline for how long to abstain from alcohol before trying to conceive, it’s recommended that women try to avoid drinking before conception to lower the chances of alcohol-related complications. Men should also aim to stop or cut down on alcohol while trying to conceive. As always, talk to a healthcare provider for personalized guidance on preparing for a healthy pregnancy.

How does alcohol affect implantation?

So, can alcohol affect implantation? Although research on how alcohol impacts implantation is still limited, excessive alcohol intake may interfere with the implantation process by disrupting hormonal regulation. 

Does alcohol affect egg quality?

Excessive drinking can disrupt the hormonal balance of the body and lead to irregularities in menstrual cycles and ovulation, which can ultimately affect egg quality. Moreover, the toxic byproducts produced by alcohol metabolism23may directly and indirectly affect the cells involved in egg maturation and development, further deteriorating their quality. 

Does alcohol affect ovulation?

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to disruptions in your menstrual cycle and ovulation, which are critical factors in fertility. Irregular ovulation patterns caused by heavy drinking can significantly reduce your chances of conceiving. This disruption in the natural cycle can also make predicting the optimal time for conception more challenging, thereby extending the time it might take to get pregnant. 

Can a man drink alcohol when trying to conceive?

While moderate alcohol consumption is generally considered safe for men trying to conceive, excessive drinking can negatively affect sperm quality, quantity, and motility. For that reason, it’s recommended for men to keep their alcohol intake within reasonable limits to increase the chances of conception.

Get the Fertility Support You Need with FertilitySmart 

At FertilitySmart, we understand the challenges and stress that come with trying to conceive, especially if you have faced fertility issues along the way. That’s why we’re dedicated to offering the best quality fertility and ovulation support supplements made from natural formulas that don’t require a prescription and are suitable for both women and men. 

Our female fertility supplements are made using a premium blend of amino acids, herbs, vitamins, and minerals that have been proven to improve overall reproductive health. They contain CoQ1024 and L-Arginine25 to promote regular ovulation and enhance egg quality. We also offer male fertility supplements that provide essential nutrients for proper hormone metabolism, sperm formation, and motility. 

Our supplements are free of fillers, artificial flavors, gluten, gelatin, lactose, sugar, and preservatives, meaning you can take them with complete peace of mind. Don’t just take our word for it. Check out our success stories!

Citations

1 Anwar, M. Y., Marcus, M., & Taylor, K. C. (2021, June 8). The association between alcohol intake and fecundability during menstrual cycle phases. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/36/9/2538/6294415

2New research on drinking and fertility: The brink. Boston University. (2016, Sept. 23). https://www.bu.edu/articles/2016/drinking-and-fertility/#:~:text=Lisa%20Chedekel-,Moderate%20alcohol%20consumption%20does%20not%20affect%20a%20woman%27s%20ability%20to,Public%20Health%20(SPH)%20researchers.

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 19). Facts about moderate drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm

4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022). Alcohol and the brain: An overview. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/alcohol-and-brain-overview#:~:text=Alcohol%20interferes%20with%20the%20brain%27s,injuries%20and%20other%20negative%20outcomes.

5 Smith, J. P., & Randall, C. L. (2012). Anxiety and alcohol use disorders: Comorbidity and treatment considerations. Alcohol research : current reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/

Alcohol-associated liver disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2023, Nov. 21). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/alcoholinduced-liver-disease

7 Piano, M. R. (2017). Alcohol’s effects on the cardiovascular system. Alcohol research : current reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513687/

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, Oct. 3). Alcohol use during pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20known%20safe,exposed%20to%20alcohol%20before%20birth.

9 Salari, N., Hasheminezhad, R., Almasi, A., Hemmati, M., Shohaimi, S., Akbari, H., & Mohammadi, M. (2023, May 2). The risk of sexual dysfunction associated with alcohol consumption in women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC women’s health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10155345/

10 Arackal, B. S., & Benegal, V. (2007, April). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian journal of psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917074/

11 Department of Health & Human Services. (2016, Dec. 30). Alcohol and weight gain. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Alcohol-and-weight-gain#

12 Gill, J. (2000, Sept. 1). The effects of moderate alcohol consumption on female hormone levels and reproductive function. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/35/5/417/206575

13 Van Heertum, K., & Rossi, B. (2017, July 10). Alcohol and fertility: How much is too much? Fertility research and practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504800/

14 O’Neil, B. E., 2011-04-24, P., O’Neil, Arizona State University. School of Life Sciences. Center for Biology and Society. Embryo Project Encyclopedia., & Monday. (2011, Apr. 24). Developmental timeline of alcohol-induced birth defects. Developmental Timeline of Alcohol-Induced Birth Defects | Embryo Project Encyclopedia. https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/developmental-timeline-alcohol-induced-birth-defects

15 World Health Organization. (2023, June 28). Polycystic ovary syndrome. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/polycystic-ovary-syndrome

16 Wdowiak A;Sulima M;Sadowska M;Grzegorz B;Bojar I; (2014). Alcohol consumption and quality of embryos obtained in programmes of in vitro fertilization. Annals of agricultural and environmental medicine : AAEM. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24959808/

17 Kumar, N., & Singh, A. K. (2015). Trends of male factor infertility, an important cause of infertility: A review of literature. Journal of human reproductive sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4691969/#:~:text=Of%20all%20infertility%20cases%2C%20approximately,sperm%20motility%2C%20or%20abnormal%20morphology.

18 Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023, Dec. 21). Spermatogenesis. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/spermatogenesis

19 Jensen, T. K., Gottschau, M., Madsen, J. O. B., Andersson, A.-M., Lassen, T. H., Skakkebæk, N. E., Swan, S. H., Priskorn, L., Juul, A., & Jørgensen, N. (2014, Sept..1). Habitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish men. BMJ Open. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005462

20 Smith, S. J. (2023, Oct.14). The effects of alcohol on testosterone synthesis in men: a review. Taylor & Francis Online. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17446651.2023.2184797?scroll=top&needAccess=true

21 CL; L. S. J. K. (2021, Sept. 14). A meta-analysis of erectile dysfunction and alcohol consumption. Urologia internationalis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34521090/

22 Moss, J. L., & Harris, K. M. (2015, Feb.). Impact of maternal and paternal preconception health on birth outcomes using prospective couples’ data in Add Health. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4293222/

23 Koop, D. R. (2006). Alcohol metabolism’s damaging effects on the cell: A focus on reactive oxygen generation by the enzyme cytochrome P450 2E1. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6527031/

24 Florou, P., Anagnostis, P., Theocharis, P., Chourdakis, M., & Goulis, D. G. (2020, Aug. 7). Does coenzyme Q10 supplementation improve fertility outcomes in women undergoing assisted reproductive technology procedures? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials - Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. SpringerLink. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10815-020-01906-3

25 So S;Yamaguchi W;Murabayashi N;Miyano N;Tawara F;Kanayama N; (2020, Oct.). Beneficial effect of L-arginine in women using assisted reproductive technologies: A small-scale randomized controlled trial. Nutrition research (New York, N.Y.). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32977253/