What’s the relationship between alcohol and fertility?
If you drink while trying to get pregnant, you may find it harder to conceive. You don’t need to drink large amounts of alcohol for this to happen. Even drinking between one and five alcoholic drinks per week can reduce your fertility. But the good news is that drinking one or less drinks per day can improve your fertility, when compared to women who drink more.
Drinking alcohol before pregnancy doesn’t just reduce your chance of conceiving. It can also lead to an increased risk of your baby being born early or at a lower than ideal birth weight.
Can I drink while I’m pregnant?
If you’re pregnant then the recommendations for drinking alcohol are clear. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer advises that you should avoid alcohol altogether. This is because, if you drink early in your pregnancy it can increase your risk of miscarriage. There is also a greater chance that your baby might have health issues. These can include:
- having a low birth weight
- being born too early (premature)
- having foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (a group of health conditions resulting from your baby being exposed to alcohol in the womb)
Sadly, drinking during pregnancy may also increase the risk that your baby could be stillborn. This shows the importance of completely avoiding alcohol during this time.
Why might alcohol make it harder to get pregnant?
If you’re trying to get pregnant, there lots of ways alcohol can reduce your fertility. These include:
- changing your levels of oestrogen – a female reproductive hormone
- reducing the number of eggs you have left (sometimes known as your ovarian reserve)
- changes to ovulation, which can reduce your chance of getting pregnant
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), reducing alcohol is also a good idea. This is because drinking too much alcohol can cause you to put on weight or effect your blood sugar levels. Both of these can worsen symptoms of PCOS. Some evidence suggests weight loss can improve fertility outcomes if you have PCOS, so cutting back on alcohol may be an easy way to help with this.
Does alcohol affect sperm?
Yes. Alcohol can reduce testosterone. Testosterone is a sex hormone which effects how your body functions, including your fertility. Having less testosterone can reduce the quality and quantity of your sperm. The positive thing is that improvements in sperm happen quite quickly after you reduce your alcohol intake.
We also know that if you regularly drink alcohol in the months before your partner becomes pregnant, your baby has a higher risk of health complications. This includes the chance of them developing a cleft lip.
Heavy drinking seems to cause these issues more than light drinking. But any amount of drinking comes with risks. So, ideally, both you and your partner should avoid alcohol completely once you start trying to conceive. If you do choose to drink, aim to stay within the recommended 14 units spread throughout the week.
Can alcohol effect my health when pregnant?
Your health before and during pregnancy has a big role to play in the future health of your child. Pregnancy also puts a strain on your body. And being as healthy as possible going into pregnancy can reduce your risk of complications. Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. All of which can make it harder for your body to cope with the demands of being pregnant.
So, if you’re planning to get pregnant in the next three to six months, try to make healthy lifestyle choices where possible. As well as avoiding alcohol, this might include moving more and eating a balanced diet. You might also speak to your doctor about managing any ongoing health conditions you have.
How much is too much alcohol?
The odd drink for a special occasion is unlikely to cause any issues in the run up to pregnancy. And don’t worry if you find out you’re pregnant but were previously drinking regularly. See your doctor or midwife about any concerns you may have. The main thing is to avoid alcohol once you know you’re pregnant.
If you have any concerns about the amount you’re drinking and are planning a pregnancy then consider contacting a GP. You’ll be able to get the right support to help you manage any issues you have with alcohol before becoming pregnant.