Alcohol and Fertility: Drinking While Trying to Conceive
If you’re trying to conceive, or beginning to think about starting a family, chances are you’ve probably recommended to stop, or at least cut down, drinking alcohol…
Not exactly the news most of us want to hear, but unfortunately alcohol consumption can affect our fertility (in both women and men) and therefore, our chances of conceiving.
Although all alcohol can affect fertility, new research has indicated that in those assigned-female-at-birth, both the timing of alcohol consumption, in relation to where we are at in our menstrual cycles, and the quantity we drink can determine how bad it’s negative effects are.
But do we need to cut the vino out all together? Or is there space to find a happy medium? Let’s take a look at exactly how alcohol and fertility are linked and what the effects of drinking are at different stages of the menstrual cycle and conception.
- Can you drink while trying to get pregnant?
- Does alcohol affect fertility?
- Female fertility and alcohol
- Why does alcohol affect fertility?
- Male fertility and alcohol
- Hormone tests for fertility
Can you drink while trying to get pregnant?
Any form of alcohol consumption may impact our ability to get, and stay, pregnant.
Less is known about alcohol’s effects on fertility and chances of conception than about its harmful effect on pregnancy, but overall the NHS currently recommends that alcohol should be avoided by women who are actively trying to conceive.
This is to keep any possible risks to a baby that might be conceived to a minimum, as we may not know that we’re pregnant until a few, or more, weeks into a pregnancy.
If we’re drinking and do become pregnant, we may risk unintentionally exposing the baby to alcohol. Since there is no known safe level of alcohol for a developing foetus, the safest approach is to avoid it.
Additionally, as we mentioned before, alcohol will also affect our ability to get pregnant in the first place—so if we’re trying to conceive, it’s also best to reduce our drinking to a minimum.
Does alcohol affect fertility?
In short yes—any form of alcohol consumption has been found to affect both female and male fertility. Some studies suggest that even low to moderate alcohol consumption, which is classed as two drinks or less per day, can be associated with reduced fertility in both men and women.
However, there have been some recent studies that suggest in women, timing of alcohol consumption can play a part in determining its negative effects on our ability to conceive. Let’s take a look at female fertility and alcohol a little more closely…
Female fertility and alcohol
A recently published study by the University of Louisville was the first of its kind to investigate alcohol consumption’s effects on fertility during different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Whilst researchers observed a significant association between heavy drinking and a reduced likelihood of conceiving at all points during the menstrual cycle, light to moderate drinking varied significantly.
The study found that when participants drank in moderation, around 3-6 alcoholic drinks per week, during the luteal phase (the second half of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation), it resulted in a 44% reduction in the chance of conceiving compared to non-drinkers.
However during the follicular phase (the second half of the menstrual cycle, before ovulation) and during ovulation, only heavy drinking was associated with a reduced chance of conceiving. Light and moderate drinking during these phases did not impact the participants chances of conceiving compared to non-drinkers.
So what does this mean for the average person? Basically, if we’re in the first two weeks of our cycle and we’re trying to conceive—it might be safe to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. However, everyone’s cycle is different and we will all ovulate at different times—literally no cycle is exactly the same.
If we’re trying to conceive and in the last two weeks of our cycle, it’s probably best to steer clear of the booze all together.
Why does alcohol affect fertility?
Although the exact cause isn’t known, it’s been suggested that alcohol disrupts hormone levels, which in turn, can have knock-on-implications for our fertility.
Studies have shown that alcohol intake is associated with an increase in levels of oestrogen, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH), in addition to a decreasing our progesterone levels. In those assigned-female-at-birth, disrupting just one of these sex hormones can disrupt the menstrual cycle and our ability to ovulate, thus reducing our chances of conceiving.
High oestrogen levels can also lower the chance of implantation—which is when a fertilised egg or developing embryo attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. If implantation fails, no pregnancy will occur.
Aside from its effect on our hormone levels, alcohol also negatively impacts our general health—which can lead to knock-on impacts for our fertility, making it harder to get, and stay pregnant, in addition to raising the risk for foetal conditions and other birth complications.
Male fertility and alcohol
Despite most conversations centering on female responsibility when it comes to fertility—it’s important to remember that male fertility is also affected by alcohol consumption.
Similarly to those assigned-female-at-birth, alcohol also disrupts the normal balance of hormones in men—including reducing testosterone levels, which again becomes more pronounced with heavy drinking over a longer period.
Does alcohol affect sperm?
A study of 1221 men in Denmark found that sperm quality decreased in men who reported drinking more than 5 units (around 3 small beers) of alcohol a week. This decrease in sperm quality became even more pronounced in men who reported drinking over 25 units of alcohol in a typical week (around 10 pints of beer).
Can a man drink alcohol while trying to conceive?
Although alcohol intake in men when trying to conceive will not harm any possible pregnancy that may occur, as mentioned above, it will likely affect their sperm quality, and thus, their sperm’s ability to fertilise an egg.
Tips for reducing your alcohol intake
Understandably, cutting out alcohol all together can be a challenge for many of us, despite its health benefits. But if you’re keen to reduce your alcohol intake (for your fertility or just in general) here are some of our top tips to get you started:
- Don’t do it alone:
Cutting down our alcohol intake can be difficult, especially if all of our friends, our partner and our family are drinking. So why not enlist someone who wants to give it a go with you?
- Learn your triggers:
Whether it’s a glass of wine to take the edge off after a stressful day or peer pressure to drink at social gatherings, we all have situations that increase our urge to drink. Consider monitoring these to begin understanding them and replacing alcoholic drinks with something else that you really enjoy.
- Reward yourself:
Keep yourself motivated whilst cutting back on alcohol. Why not set aside the money that you would normally spend on alcohol on a treat for yourself.- Keep yourself motivated whilst cutting back on alcohol. Why not set aside the money that you would normally spend on alcohol on a treat for yourself.
Need some guidance on your fertility journey?
Our clinically validated at-home hormone and fertility tests are tailored to you and your health needs, to get you the answers you deserve. Discuss your results with our expert team, who are here to answer your questions and support you, no matter what the results.
FAQs about alcohol and fertility
How long after quitting drinking does fertility come back?
This will depend on how much you’ve been drinking and for how long. Some health professionals will advise cutting down, or stopping drinking, as much as two to three months before trying to conceive. Testing your hormones can give you a good indication into your current fertility and help you to monitor any improvements after you cut back on alcohol.
Can drinking alcohol affect IVF treatment?
Research suggests that drinking up to one drink per day whilst undergoing IVF treatment will not affect your success rate. However, when approaching IUI or egg retrieval, it is recommended that you stop drinking altogether during this time—as similarly to those conceiving naturally, alcohol could harm a developing embryo or foetus.
What is a standard drink?
One unit of alcohol is equal to 10 ml or 8g of pure alcohol—which is roughly the amount an average adult can process in an hour. The number of units in a drink depends on its size and how strong it is. The NHS website provides a good breakdown of how many units are in different types of alcohol, but roughly one small glass of wine contains 1.5 units and a pint of lower-strength beer around 2 units.
Moderate drinking is considered to be anything below 14 units per week on a regular basis.
- Any form of alcohol consumption may impact our ability to get, and stay, pregnant
- When trying to conceive it is recommended to completely abstain from alcohol
- Alcohol can disrupt normal hormone functioning and cause subsequent imbalances in reproductive hormone levels
- Alcohol can also affect male fertility and sperm quality