Does Drinking Impact Your Chances of Getting Pregnant? Here’s What to Know

Kristen Geil
Kristen Geil
Published: January 11, 2022Updated: February 28, 2022

You’re eating well, exercising regularly, and feeling as Zen as your favorite yoga teacher — all excellent lifestyle choices that can help increase your chances of getting pregnant. But is that nightly glass of wine helping or hurting your fertility? Here’s what to know about how alcohol affects fertility, and whether you should drink while trying to get pregnant. 

Can alcohol impact your chances of conceiving? 

From work happy hours to birthday parties, drinking alcohol is one of the most common ways to socialize with friends and acquaintances. However, if you’re trying to get pregnant, research has suggested that staying away from alcohol might help.

Research has shown that regular heavy drinking (defined as 8 or more drinks per week) can affect the menstrual cycle and ovulation. Heavy drinking can also impact a person's hormone levels (including testosterone, estradiol, and prolactin), which can negatively affect fertility.  

Another study found that as few as three drinks per week could make it more difficult to become pregnant, especially if the drinking happens in the second half of the menstrual cycle. This finding is important because many people trying to conceive may be under the impression that there’s a “safe” time to drink during their cycle. Instead, it seems that even moderate drinking may have an impact on fertility.

If trying to conceive with a male partner, they’re on the hook too. In men, heavy drinking has been shown to lower testosterone levels and raise estrogen levels. Heavy drinking can also shrink the testes, cause early or decreased ejaculation, and change the size, shape, and movement of healthy sperm. Bottom line: if trying with a male partner, the chances of getting pregnant might improve if both people are abstaining from alcohol. 

One last thing to consider: most people don’t realize they’re pregnant until sometime between weeks four and six, so they might continue drinking without realizing they’re expecting. Doing this may put the baby at risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Here’s an example: In one study, maternal binge drinking in the month prior to pregnancy recognition was the best predictor of neurobehavioral deficits in attention, learning, and memory among children at age 7.5. These same participants were more likely to be rated by their parents as having learning problems, being below average academically, and being hyperactive and impulsive.

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Reasons not to drink while pregnant 

If pregnant, it’s time to make peace with knowing you’ll be sipping sparkling water with lime at happy hour for the foreseeable future. Extensive research has shown the detrimental effects of drinking alcohol while pregnant, including:

Birth defects and poor outcomes: Ever heard of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)? According to the CDC, FASD refers to a range of disorders that can occur when the person was exposed to alcohol before birth. Basically, the alcohol in the mother’s blood passes through the umbilical cord to the baby. The possible symptoms of FASD are wide-ranging and can include low body weight and poor coordination, in addition to the cognitive and behavioral problems discussed earlier. The same study found that each week a woman consumes alcohol during the first five to 10 weeks of pregnancy is associated with an incremental 8 percent increase in risk of miscarriage.

Low birth weight and early delivery: Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been associated with low birth weight in multiple studies. Moreover, studies have shown that drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of a preterm delivery.

So, is there *any* amount that’s safe to drink while trying to get pregnant?

The absolute safest decision is to avoid drinking while trying to get pregnant and after getting pregnant. 

Need new habits to replace that nightly glass of wine or mimosa-filled weekend brunch? Try these tips for staying sober without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.

Explore the world of mocktails. As the sober-curious movement gets more popular, trendy mocktail brands are popping up everywhere. If you’re heading out with friends, perfect your mocktail order. Virgin Palomas and virgin Moscow Mules are so delicious, you won’t even miss the spirits.

Gather your friends for activities that don’t center on drinking. When that 3pm group text rolls around asking who’s in for a drink that night, try responding with an idea for a different activity — one that doesn’t revolve around drinking. Seeing a movie, gathering for a cozy night of puzzles and popcorn, or checking out the latest exhibit at the art museum are all fun ways to hang with your friends and get out of your usual routine.  

While taking a break from drinking might shake up your lifestyle at first, who knows? You just might find that you like your new rituals and mocktails just as much as the old, alcohol-infused ones. Cheers!

If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and are struggling to stop drinking, contact your healthcare provider, local Alcoholics Anonymous, or local alcohol treatment center.

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Citations

Van Heertum, K., & Rossi, B. (2017). Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much?. Fertility research and practice, 3, 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40738-017-0037-x

Mohammad Yaser Anwar, Michele Marcus, Kira C Taylor, The association between alcohol intake and fecundability during menstrual cycle phases, Human Reproduction, Volume 36, Issue 9, September 2021, Pages 2538–2548, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deab121

Sansone, A., Di Dato, C., de Angelis, C., Menafra, D., Pozza, C., Pivonello, R., Isidori, A., & Gianfrilli, D. (2018). Smoke, alcohol and drug addiction and male fertility. Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E, 16(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12958-018-0320-7

Branum, A. M., & Ahrens, K. A. (2017). Trends in Timing of Pregnancy Awareness Among US Women. Maternal and child health journal, 21(4), 715–726. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-016-2155-1

 Maier, S. E., & West, J. R. (2001). Drinking patterns and alcohol-related birth defects. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25(3), 168–174.

Streissguth, A. P., Bookstein, F. L., Barr, H. M., Sampson, P. D., O'Malley, K., & Young, J. K. (2004). Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP, 25(4), 228–238. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004703-200408000-00002

Sundermann, A. C., Zhao, S., Young, C. L., Lam, L., Jones, S. H., Velez Edwards, D. R., & Hartmann, K. E. (2019). Alcohol Use in Pregnancy and Miscarriage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 43(8), 1606–1616. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.14124

Virji S. K. (1991). The relationship between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and infant birthweight. An epidemiologic study. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica, 70(4-5), 303–308. https://doi.org/10.3109/00016349109007877

Mariscal, M., Palma, S., Llorca, J., Pérez-Iglesias, R., Pardo-Crespo, R., & Delgado-Rodríguez, M. (2006). Pattern of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and risk for low birth weight. Annals of epidemiology, 16(6), 432–438. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annepidem.2005.07.058

Jen-Hao Chen, Maternal Alcohol Use during Pregnancy, Birth Weight and Early Behavioral Outcomes, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 47, Issue 6, November/December 2012, Pages 649–656, https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/ags089

 Albertsen, K., Andersen, A. M., Olsen, J., & Grønbaek, M. (2004). Alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the risk of preterm delivery. American journal of epidemiology, 159(2), 155–161. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwh034

 Ikehara, S, Kimura, T, Kakigano, A, Sato, T, Iso, H, the Japan Environment Children's Study Group. Association between maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy and risk of preterm delivery: the Japan Environment and Children's Study. BJOG. 2019; 126: 1448– 1454.

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