There is no question that women should not drink alcohol while they are pregnant. Even small amounts of alcohol can pose a serious health threat to a developing baby. Once a baby is born, if the mother is breastfeeding, she should continue to abstain. But couples should pay serious attention to the issue of alcohol and fertility even before a woman learns that she’s pregnant since fertility in both women and men can be affected by alcohol and can have an impact on attempts to conceive a child.
Alcohol and Fertility – How Much is Too Much?
It’s no secret that a glass of wine with dinner has been standard practice in many parts of the world for centuries with no widespread reports of serious fertility issues, so women might think it’s okay to drink a little while trying to become pregnant. One glass of wine or beer or one mixed drink generally contains half an ounce (15g) of alcohol. In most cases, one occasional drink will not have a significant effect on fertility, but problems may develop if a person drinks more. Daily consumption of four or more drinks is considered moderate alcohol abuse; eight or more drinks a day is considered alcoholism.
Alcohol and Fertility in Women
Alcohol can affect fertility in women in a number of ways. Drinking can have a disruptive effect on a woman’s menstrual cycle which can result in a woman not having her period or even anovulation, a menstrual cycle where ovulation doesn’t occur. Without ovulation, a woman cannot become pregnant. Alcohol use and abuse can also lead to abnormalities in the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus, where a fertilized egg is implanted and then grows. Estrogen and progesterone levels, hormones which play important roles in women’s fertility, can be affected by alcohol as well. The more alcohol a woman drinks, the more serious and likely the fertility problems.
The stakes get even higher if a woman continues to drink once she is pregnant. There’s an increased risk for miscarriage, impaired fetal growth and development, pre-term birth, and stillbirth. The most well-known effect of alcohol use during pregnancy is a baby born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which results in irreversible mental retardation, growth deficiency, behavioral disturbances, and atypical heart-shaped facial appearance. The most sensible approach is for a woman to abstain from drinking while trying to have a baby, to make sure that alcohol is not having an adverse effect on her fertility. If you are already pregnant, it is imperative to abstain from alcohol completely at least until after the baby is born and longer if you are breastfeeding.
Alcohol and Fertility in Men
Male fertility can be negatively affected by regular alcohol use and abuse. Alcohol has been linked to abnormal liver function and a rise in estrogen levels in men, which can potentially interfere with normal sperm development and hormone levels. Toxins that are found in alcohol might destroy sperm-generating cells in the testicles, affect testicular size, and cause an increase in abnormally-shaped sperm, all of which could have an effect on fertility. Alcohol abuse in men has also been linked with damaged sperm and lower sperm count. Additionally, if a man is a heavy drinker or alcoholic, there is a strong possibility that he might suffer from erectile dysfunction and be unable to have successful sexual relations, which would have a secondary impact on his fertility. Most of these side effects on male fertility can be reversed if a man stops drinking. If a man is experiencing low sperm count, for example, he should refrain from drinking for at least three months (the period of time it takes sperm to develop) and then have his semen level re-tested to see if it has changed.