How Drinking While TTC Affects Your Fertility & Pregnancy
Much of the conversation with alcohol revolves around whether you can drink while you are pregnant, but what about alcohol consumption when you’re trying to conceive? You’re likely already familiar with many of the other lifestyle changes you can make to help you get pregnant, but for some, changing your drinking habits can be a tough pill to swallow.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to fertility and managing them all can be quite stressful. Alcohol can have a major impact on your pregnancy journey and in this post we’ll discuss how drinking while trying to conceive can impact your fertility and pregnancy.
Can you drink while trying to get pregnant?
When you’re trying to conceive you want to be as healthy as possible and create the optimum conditions for conception and pregnancy. The guidelines and research as well as the risks associated with drinking though are very clear – if you are trying to get pregnant you should not drink alcohol. No amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy and you risk serious harm to a fetus if you continue drinking or drink when you didn’t know you were pregnant.
How alcohol affects fertility and TTC
The dangers of certain lifestyle choices like smoking are well known and their effects on fertility well documented. However, the effect alcohol has on fertility and trying to conceive is not as well known and leaves many women questioning whether they can drink while trying to get pregnant.
For unintended or unrecognized pregnancies, this can pose a serious risk and unintentionally expose a developing pregnancy to the adverse effects of alcohol. And since alcohol-related birth defects are completely preventable, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cautions that any amount is risky for women who are trying to become pregnant.
Although there may be some social or health benefits related to moderate drinking, when TTC the cons far outweigh the pros. Aside from the clear risk of fetal harm from drinking during an early pregnancy, there is evidence that moderate drinking may affect fertility as well. For women, studies have found that long term moderate drinking may negatively impact ovarian reserve, or the number and quality of your eggs. In other words, even moderate drinking can have an effect on a woman’s reproductive potential.
For men, alcohol affects fertility by interfering with the reproductive system, and more specifically testosterone production. Not to mention that drinking may cause other knock on effects in men like erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation that can negatively impact fertility or your chances of conception. For those seeking fertility treatments, the outcomes are even worse and drinking can seriously affect the success of those treatments.
We still have a lot to learn about how alcohol affects our reproductive systems, and the effects on our fertility. Because the risk to any potential pregnancy is so great, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) caution against alcohol consumption when you are trying to get pregnant.
Can alcohol stop you from getting pregnant?
Given the known effects of alcohol, you may be wondering if alcohol can stop you from getting pregnant altogether. Research has been somewhat conflicting in the area with some studies indicating that alcohol negatively affects ovarian reserve, while others suggesting that occasional alcohol consumption can actually increase fertility. Since the evidence is still unclear when it comes to fertility, most healthcare providers will recommend moderation and that while having an occasional drink is okay, drinking more and binge drinking is never recommended.
Does alcohol affect sperm when trying to get pregnant?
Due to the numerous studies on alcohol abuse in men, we know that alcohol can impact the reproductive system and cause impaired testosterone production (among other things) that can lead to infertility. In men, drinking lowers certain hormone levels and raises others, resulting in reduced sperm production.
Alcohol consumption can also lead to changes in the shape, size and movement of healthy sperm. Overall, the effects of alcohol on the count, size, shape, and motility of sperm can have serious impacts when trying to get pregnant.
Can alcohol affect implantation?
Alcohol can have negative effects on your fertility before you are even pregnant. Aside from the issues drinking can cause for women with ovulation and cycle regulation, it can also prevent proper implantation in the uterus. One study even suggests that women should avoid consuming alcohol in the second half of their menstrual cycle when trying to get pregnant because of the association.
Does alcohol affect egg quality?
Given that drinking is associated with an increased risk of issues with ovulation or cycle regulation, it makes sense to wonder how alcohol affects egg quality. Research has been conflicting on the specific effects on egg quality, but given the other effects of alcohol on your body, like an increase in blood pressure or memory problems, it may still be harmful to your fertility and should be limited or stopped altogether when trying to conceive.
Can drinking while pregnant cause a miscarriage?
There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be used during pregnancy and the harmful effects can begin immediately. Drinking even moderate amounts may lead to miscarriage and you should not drink if you know you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. In fact, the chance of miscarriage increases significantly each week alcohol is consumed and women are advised to avoid alcohol when TTC as they may be pregnant and not even know it.
What about occasional drinking?
The reality is that the research is mixed when it comes to the effects of an occasional drink on both fertility and pregnancy and the advice you get from all popular sources can be confusing. Even though almost all organizations recommend abstaining from alcohol while TTC for the greatest chance of success, many healthcare providers say the occasional drink is ok.
The ethics of conducting such a study make it a highly unlikely research route and because the full effects of low consumption during pregnancy are unknown, it is still advised to avoid alcohol consumption. Drinking is a personal choice and what constitutes “occasional” may mean different things to different people and most doctors agree that a celebratory drink right after labour shouldn’t be a problem (unless you are nursing right away of course!).
FAQs about drinking while TTC
You know that alcohol is off limits once you’re pregnant, but you may still have questions about drinking while preparing for that pregnancy.
When should you stop drinking if you’re pregnant?
There is no amount of alcohol use that is safe during pregnancy. Alcohol related birth defects are completely preventable and if you are pregnant you should not drink alcohol. If you are actively trying to get pregnant, you should stop drinking while TTC so there is no chance a potential pregnancy could be negatively affected.
Once you are pregnant, all alcohol consumption should stop immediately. Research has shown even minimal exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can have significant and lifelong health effects.
Although your body may still be able to process any alcohol consumed while you are pregnant, the alcohol in your bloodstream will pass directly to the fetus via the placenta. The still-developing fetus lacks the ability to process alcohol and may suffer due to the exposure. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb and the problems associated with them can be lifelong and devastating.
Can I have a drink when TTC?
Official guidelines advise against drinking while TTC. If a woman stops drinking before she gets pregnant, she can avoid unnecessary exposure to alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy. Not to mention that research shows that even light drinking can negatively impact what it takes to get pregnant. Due to the harmful effects that can happen before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid all alcohol when TTC.
Can a man drink alcohol when trying to conceive?
Even moderate alcohol consumption can have impacts on male fertility. Beyond its negative impact on sperm quality, alcohol can lead to other negative consequences in sexual function – like limiting your ability to orgasm or impeding libido. If you are trying to conceive, it is generally recommended for men to stop drinking as well.