We all know that drinking during pregnancy is harmful for the baby. But what about when you’re trying to conceive? Can alcohol stop you from getting pregnant?
In this post, we’ll discuss how alcohol can impact fertility for both women and men. We’ll also share what amount of alcohol makes conceiving a child more difficult, and how much alcohol is okay (hint: moderation is key).
Can You Drink Alcohol When Trying To Conceive?
Because it’s possible to be pregnant and not know it yet, it’s sometimes recommended that women stop drinking altogether when trying for a baby. Others argue that this recommendation is extreme. If you do drink while trying to conceive, stop completely if you become pregnant.
But will drinking alcohol make it more difficult to conceive? Drinking small amounts of alcohol isn’t likely to interfere with conception, but large amounts can have a negative impact on fertility. For women, alcohol can affect ovulation and egg quality. And for men, it can decrease sperm count and motility (the sperm’s ability to reach the egg).
Beyond its effect on fertility, alcohol use sometimes interferes with a couple’s sex life. When either partner drinks heavily, it can put a strain on the relationship and undermine intimacy. What’s more, it may cause erectile dysfunction for men1 and reduced sexual arousal for women.2 The bottom line is that if you’re trying to start a family, it’s helpful to limit alcohol or stop drinking.
Alcohol and Female Fertility
Research shows that heavy drinking can increase the amount of time it takes to get pregnant. A study of 7,393 women who were trying to conceive found that heavy drinking—the equivalent of two or more bottles of wine per week—was associated with an 18% decrease in fecundity.3 Fecundity refers to the probability of achieving a live birth within a single cycle.
That’s because heavy drinking is linked to an imbalance in sex hormones, irregular periods, and less frequent ovulation. Heavy alcohol use was also associated with increased risk of infertility examinations in another study.4
So, should you stop drinking when trying to get pregnant? Quitting altogether isn’t a must, but limiting your alcohol intake is one healthy choice that can help with conception.
Does Alcohol Affect Ovulation?
In large quantities, yes. In small quantities, not necessarily. Even moderate alcohol consumption can affect levels of hormones like estradiol, luteinizing hormone (LH), and testosterone, which impact the reproductive system.5 For women who drink in moderation, this doesn’t appear to have a harmful effect on ovulation.
But over time, heavier drinking can disrupt normal menstrual cycling and ovulation.6 In some cases, it can stop periods and ovulation completely. Alcohol abuse is also linked to early menopause, but it’s unclear whether the cause is direct (hormonal imbalances) or indirect (related to other health issues caused by alcohol use disorder).7
Does Alcohol Affect Egg Quality?
Alcohol use, especially frequent binge drinking, can decrease ovarian reserve.8 Ovarian reserve measures a woman’s reproductive potential by the number of healthy eggs in the ovaries. This means that women who binge drink may have fewer healthy eggs, which makes it more difficult to conceive a child.
For example, one study found that women who reported binge drinking twice per week or more had 26% lower anti-Müllerian hormone levels (a marker of ovarian reserve) in comparison to drinkers who never binged.9
Schedule a private call with a Ria Health team member and we can help you get started.
Alcohol and Male Fertility
For couples trying to conceive, men’s reproductive health is just as important as women’s. And it turns out that drinking too much alcohol also affects fertility for men.10
Heavy drinking can lower men’s testosterone levels and impact the sperm they produce—from quantity and motility to shape and size. Low sperm count or quality makes it more difficult for a woman’s egg to get fertilized, so it becomes harder to create a child.
Can a Man Drink Alcohol When Trying To Conceive?
When it comes to alcohol and conception, it’s best for both men and women to limit their drinking. This doesn’t mean men need to give up alcohol completely when trying for a baby. But it’s a good idea to drink in moderation and avoid binge drinking. Binging can have a negative impact on testosterone, sperm, and sexual function.
Does Alcohol Affect Sperm When Trying To Get Pregnant?
Heavy alcohol use negatively impacts sperm in several ways. It reduces sperm concentration (the number of sperm per milliliter of semen) and alters sperm volume. It increases sperm DNA fragmentation (which is linked to lower pregnancy rates, longer time to conception, and higher miscarriage rates) and is linked to higher numbers of misshapen sperm.
Additionally, heavy alcohol consumption in men is associated with higher incidence of congenital heart defects, cancer, and altered reproductive development in offspring. For men who drink occasionally, these negative effects were not observed.11
What Amount of Alcohol Causes Problems?
For both women and men, the answer to the question, “Should you stop drinking when trying to get pregnant?” is that you should stop drinking excessively. It’s still okay to drink in moderation, but both partners should steer clear of binge drinking and heavy drinking. Let’s look at exactly what these terms mean, and how much you have to drink for it to negatively impact your fertility.
- Binge drinking: 5+ drinks in a single sitting for men; 4+ drinks in a single sitting for women
- Heavy drinking: Binge drinking on 5+ days in a single month
- Moderate drinking: 2 drinks or less a day for men; 1 drink or less a day for women
The greatest negative impact on fertility happens with binge drinking, especially when binge drinking is frequent. So, men shouldn’t drink more than five drinks at one time, and women shouldn’t drink more than four—especially not on a regular basis.
And for the best results, you should stick to moderation, which means no more than one daily drink for women and two for men. Research shows that moderate drinking does not have a negative impact on fertility, so moderation or quitting are the safest choices for couples trying to conceive.
How Long After Quitting Drinking Does Fertility Come Back?
If you’ve struggled with alcohol in the past, and you are trying for a baby, how long after quitting drinking does fertility come back?
There is limited research on this topic, but one study found that it took no more than three months for the return of healthy sperm production once men stopped drinking heavily. After three months, all men in the study had completely normal sperm parameters.12
The answer is less clear for women. However, we know that within one month of quitting, the liver begins to repair itself from alcohol-related damage, and the risk of alcohol-related cardiovascular disease is reduced. Our bodies have an incredible ability to heal themselves, and that’s encouraging news for women concerned about alcohol and conception.
Keeping a Healthy Lifestyle When Trying To Conceive a Child
In this post, we answered the question, “Can alcohol stop you from getting pregnant?” But there are many factors that affect your overall health and fertility. A good rule of thumb is to try to stay as healthy as possible.
In addition to limiting your alcohol, other smart measures to take include:
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a nutritious diet
- Following good sleep habits
- Practicing stress management
- Avoiding smoking cigarettes or vaping
If you or your partner are struggling to cut back on alcohol or quit, Ria Health can help. Our telemedicine program gives you all the tools you need to limit your drinking, delivered 100% virtually through an app on your smartphone. Learn more about how it works, or get in touch with a member of our team today.