Giving up alcohol is often the automatic response for women who are trying to get pregnant, and this is especially true for women after realizing hey are pregnant. But, is it really necessary? We’ve all seen perfectly intelligent women, without drinking problems, who enjoy a glass of red wine here and there or who might drink that celebratory glass of Champagne at a cousin’s wedding – while simultaneously boasting a bump.
We’ve also heard a million times about how, “…in Europe, England, Australia….etc. etc.,” women drink moderate amounts of alcohol while trying to get pregnant or during their pregnancy and things seem just fine.
It can be difficult to tell where to draw the line when you’re trying to conceive.
Alcohol Can Affect Female Fertility
Here’s what we do know: alcohol can affect fertility and it definitely affects pregnancy and the developing fetus-then-baby. For this reason, we recommend that our patients abstain from drinking while trying to get pregnant. Not only does this help to improve your chance of fertility, it also ensures your fetus is not exposed to alcohol in your womb.
Recent studies show that drinking alcohol does affect fertility; the confusing part is determining exactly how much is too much. Studies show that drinking up to five drinks a week can lower fertility rates, and drinking 10 alcoholic beverages or more per week notably decreases conception rates.
Drinking Also Compromises Male Fertility Factors
Alcohol also has a negative impact on male fertility factors, which are more common than most people realize. Physiologically speaking, alcohol can lower a man’s libido and can reduce his ability to get an erection. When combined with existing lifestyle factors or issues around erectile dysfunction, this limits a couple’s ability to have intercourse.
According to Danish researchers, heavy drinking (25 drinks or more per week) has a negative effect on both sperm count, morphology (shape) and motility (their ability to swim). These are the leading causes of male infertility so even a simple lifestyle change can make a big impact when you’re trying to get pregnant. Plus, let’s face it, once baby is born – those 25 or more drinks per week aren’t going to contribute to a healthy family culture.
Pregnancy + Alcohol = No-No
Finally, there is the effect alcohol has on fertility after the baby is conceived. Maternal drinking is associated with higher miscarriage and stillbirth rates, as well as lower birth weight, higher premature birth rates, and other health conditions that can lead to a rough start for both mother and baby. These findings are true even when women consume only one or two drinks per day.
There is a long list of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders that range in severity, typically in proportion to the amount of alcohol a woman drinks while pregnant. In addition to low birth weights and premature birth, babies born to mothers who drank while they were in utero are at risk for other FASDs, like:
- Abnormal facial features
- Difficulty latching on or sucking
- Sleep problems
- Learning and behavioral disabilities
- Poor memory
- Speech and language delays
- Poor reasoning and judgement
- Weaker bones, muscles and organs
There is no need to panic if you were caught unawares and have been drinking regularly before finding out you are pregnant. Discuss your concerns with your doctor to put your mind at ease and then cease drinking for the duration of the pregnancy.
However, if you are having a difficult time ceasing your drinking habit, it is essential that you speak to your doctor or midwife about your situation. You are not alone and there will be no judgement. Rather, you will be rewarded with the support and resources you need to make healthier and permanent lifestyle changes for you and your baby.
The healthier your diet and lifestyle are, the better your chances are of fertility success and a healthy pregnancy.