Similar to how smoking affects your ability to become pregnant, drinking alcohol before trying to become pregnant may also have adverse affects on conception. While the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy are well known -- the physical, behavioral and cognitive problems known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders -- drinking before getting pregnant can also cause problems. Alcohol consumption can lower your chances of conception, and it's also linked with higher chances of miscarriage.
A study published in the British Medical Journal found that women who drank more than 10 alcoholic beverages per week had impaired fertility, and even those women who drank five or fewer drinks per week had a harder time getting pregnant than women who didn't drink at all while trying to conceive [source: Jensen et al].
Alcohol appears to affect estrogen and other reproductive hormones in the body, making monthly cycles longer and anovulatory cycles -- menstrual cycles during which ovulation doesn't occur -- more common. If ovulation doesn't occur, a woman's ovary doesn't release an egg. When this happens, a woman literally can't become pregnant, no matter how hard she tries.
Men who drink alcohol may also suffer from alcohol-related fertility issues such as low sperm count and low sperm motility. What does this mean when you're thinking about getting pregnant? A man's ejaculate contains fewer sperm, and a higher percentage of the available sperm are unable to make the long journey to fertilize a woman's egg.
So what's a couple to do? The best thing is to stop drinking alcohol when you decide to try to get pregnant, and just as with smoking cessation, some health professionals will recommend stopping about two to three months before trying to conceive to get the full benefits.
For more information about how drinking and smoking affect conception, check out the great links below.
- American Fertility Association. "Infertility Risk Assessment." 2008. (March 21, 2011)http://www.theafa.org/library/article/infertility_risk_assessment/
- American Pregnancy Association. "Female Fertility Testing." 2007. (March 21, 2011)http://www.americanpregnancy.org/infertility/femalefertilitytesting.html
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "Age and Fertility: A Guide for Patients." 2003. (March 21, 2011)http://www.sart.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/agefertility.pdf
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "Patient's Fact Sheet: Smoking and Infertility." November 2003. (March 21, 2011)http://www.sart.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/smoking.pdf
- Andalo, Debbie. "Smoking 'cuts conception success by 40%'." The Guardian. Feb. 11, 2004. (March 21, 2011)http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/feb/11/smoking.publichealth
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Infertility FAQ's." Dec. 28, 2009. (March 21, 2011)http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Infertility/index.htm
- Chan, Amanda. "More evidence ties smoking, decreased fertility." MSNBC.com. Sept. 8, 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39068596/ns/health-pregnancy/
- Emanuele, Mary Ann et al. "Alcohol's Effects on Female Reproductive Function." The Endowment for Human Development. 2003. (March 21, 2011)http://www.ehd.org/health_alcohol_9.php
- European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. "Should Obese, Smoking and Alcohol Consuming Women Receive Assisted Reproduction Treatment?" ScienceDaily. Jan. 19, 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100119074752.htm
- Hall, Carl T. "Study speeds up biological clocks / Fertility rates dip after women hit 27." San Francisco Gate. April 30, 2002. (March 21, 2011)http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-04-30/news/17541319_1_menstrual-cycle-fertility-age-related
- Human Reproduction Update. "Protamines and male infertility." March 31, 2006. (March 21, 2011)http://humupd.oxfordjournals.org/content/12/4/417.abstract
- Jenson, Tina Kold et al. "Does moderate alcohol consumption affect fertility? Follow up study among couples planning first pregnancy." British Medical Journal. Aug. 22, 1998. (March 21, 2011)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC28642/
- Powell, Kendall. "Age is no barrier …." Nature. Nov. 3, 2004. (March 21, 2011)http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v432/n7013/full/432040a.html
- Rabin, Roni. "It Seems the Fertility Clock Ticks for Men, Too." The New York Times. Feb. 27, 2007. (March 21, 2011)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D06E4DC1E3EF934A15751C0A9619C8B63