Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than struggling to conceive, is learning there are things we are doing that could be impeding our chances of success. The truth is, no one ever wants to be told what to do. Unfortunately though, when it comes to alcohol and fertility, it’s better to stack the deck in your favor than to risk the gamble of not changing your ways.
In this post, we’ll cover quite a few things including:
- Alcohol and its effect on the human body
- The truth about alcohol and fertility for both men and women
- The reason why you should stop drinking if you do get pregnant
- Lifestyle changes you may want to consider to aid your conception journey
- What to do if you’re still struggling sans alcohol, and much more
A night of drinking is harmless, right?
Wrong. Here’s the thing you don’t want us to say about that supposedly consequence free night of drinking - Drinking just one drink is effectively the act of you choosing to put poison in your body. Even if you only have one or two, even just once in a while, by drinking alcohol you are choosing to pour a toxin into your system. We know, we know - talk about a Debbie Downer, but it’s true.
“Pick your poison” isn’t just a joke bartenders make. It’s a reality most of us simply don’t want to think about when we’re out having a round of drinks with friends, or even sitting at home by ourselves.
Alcohol and fertility may not have a scientifically proven, direct relationship, but if the things we put in our bodies can have a negative or positive impact, it stands to reason that we should try to be healthier if we want to make our conception journey easier. But, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s continue looking at alcohol’s impact on the human body regardless of the desire to get pregnant.
Alcohol dehydrates our bodies
When you consume alcohol, it has an intense diuretic effect. Have you ever noticed how when you’re drinking, you feel the urge to go to the bathroom more frequently? That’s the alcohol moving through your system.
Drink enough and you could endure severe dehydration which can take as much as a week for the body to recuperate from. Think about how long your most recent hangover lasted? It may have taken you just a day to get over it, but as you age it can take much longer for you to recover. This dehydration can lead to excessive constipation, ulcers and hemorrhoids.
Drinking can also make digestion of food more difficult. It can damage the tissues within your digestive tract, and lead to malnutrition. This combined with dehydration is a recipe for disaster within your body.
Alcohol can weaken our immune systems
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when you are drinking too much, you are “making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.”
Did you catch that? Even on a single occasion, your body is slower to fight infection. Is it any wonder then, that the most heavy drinkers are more prone to cancers, disease, and other ailments?
Alcohol impedes alertness and coordination
Although alcohol metabolizes out of your system within an average of an hour for a single shot of liquor, its effects can last much longer. Consumption of alcohol impedes reaction time, and mental acuity for as many as three days or longer after a night of drinking. It’s why they say you shouldn’t drink and drive - it’s harder to react to the things on the road when drinking.
When you really stop and think about it, the fact that it can take as many as three days for your body to recuperate means you could have trouble with coordination and alertness long after you have sobered up. Is it really worth all the risk?
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with fertility. We’re getting there, we promise. Our goal here is to share the wider implications of alcohol’s impact on the body, so that you’ll better understand why something as delicate as reproduction can be so difficult as a result of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol drinkers are usually heavier than those who abstain
It’s no secret that alcohol is laden with calories. Even just one glass of wine can be 160 calories or more. A flavored margarita can be 200 calories or more depending on what you add to it. Fruity and fancy drinks with added sweeteners and heavy creams can skyrocket in terms of how many calories they are filled with. All that sugar doesn’t just pack on the pounds, it also can spike your insulin levels and lead to diabetes over time.
When we drink our calories, it’s harder to tell just how many we’re consuming. The more calories we consume, the more it impacts our waistline. It’s one of the reasons why most nutritionists and physicians recommend abstaining from alcohol to aid in your weight loss efforts.
Alcohol can negatively impact your mental health too
It’s bad enough the drinking can mess with your coordination and reaction times, it can also cause behavior changes, hallucinations, blackouts and more. For most people, it takes a strong dependence on alcohol to cause things like hallucinations and blackouts. On the other hand, for those with low alcohol tolerance, drinking too much in one night, drinking on an empty stomach, etc… the effects of just one night of drinking can negatively impact your emotions and overall mental health.
It’s one of the reasons people who are drinking start getting sad, and sometimes do things they will later regret. Alcohol, while it may feel like a stimulant at first, quickly becomes a depressant.
Alcohol can harm your sexual and reproductive health
Now we’re getting somewhere in terms of the effects of alcohol on fertility. A common misconception is that having a few drinks can loosen one up, and make them more willing to engage in sexual activity. Though in some cases, it can make you lower your inhibitions, the reality is:
- Men who consume alcohol are more likely to have trouble with achieving and/or maintain an erection - also known as erectile dysfunction
- For men who are able to maintain an erection, they may not be able to ejaculate due to their alcohol consumption
- Women and men who consume alcohol actually tend to have lower libidos overall than those who don’t drink
Are you starting to see why drinking alcohol is probably a bad idea if you are trying to conceive? If you’re still not convinced, let’s break it down further:
Alcohol and Fertility - In Women
The truth is, many things can cause infertility in women. However, consumption of alcohol can certainly have a negative impact on a woman’s fertility.
Issues a woman could face in regards to alcohol and fertility include, but aren’t limited to:
- Alcohol use can lead to heavy, irregular and/or nonexistent periods. In other words, some women can stop menstruating completely as a result of drinking.
- We all know that if a woman is not menstruating, she might not be able to ovulate, let alone conceive. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, “drinking is associated with an increased risk of ovulation disorders.”
- Excess weight as a result of drinking could lead to complications with conception
- A woman who is overweight is more likely to have excess estrogen, and this has an effect similar to that of taking birth control - you could stop ovulating and/or stop having a monthly menstrual cycle altogether.
- Women who are overweight have impaired sexual arousal, less adequate lubrication, and are less likely to be able to achieve orgasm
- A woman who is obese can also have a more difficult pregnancy once she does conceive
- Earlier we stated that alcohol can weaken the immune system, and make us more prone to disease and cancer. Should disease or cancer result from alcohol consumption, it can wreak havoc on your reproductive system, and make pregnancy all but impossible.
Alcohol and Fertility - In Men
If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know that infertility is not just a female issue. It takes two to make a baby after all. While the issues are different, there seems to be a correlation between alcohol and fertility for males too.
Issues a man could face in regards to alcohol and fertility include, but aren’t limited to:
- Drinking just two to four ounces (or one or two “standard shots” of liquor) per week can negatively impact a male’s reproductive organs.
- Though some would consider two shots of liquor per week a small amount of alcohol, it can reduce the quality of a man’s sperm. And, the more alcohol a man consumes, the lower the sperm quality.
- Add to this the fact that as a man ages his sperm quantity, quality, and motility decreases, and it stands to reason that the older you get, the more drinking can impede your fertility
- Consuming alcohol can cause an excess of estrogen production in males which can decrease their libido, and decrease sperm production
- Alcohol consumption can also reduce testosterone levels
Bottom line - Regardless of being male or female, you should stop drinking if you want to make a baby.
Achieving pregnancy and alcohol are simply not a good mix. Again, there is no scientifically proven, direct correlation between alcohol and fertility. However, given the negative impact consuming it can have on our reproductive organs alone, abstaining from the stuff is your best be when trying to conceive.
If you still have doubts about this, you may want to discuss the matter with your fertility specialist, or your primary care physician. The truth is though, that when trying to have a baby, the healthier your body and your partner’s body is, the better your chances are of success.
What should you do if you are, or think you are pregnant?
If you think you are pregnant, or are pregnant, it is in the best interest of the mom to be, and the fetus that you stop drinking immediately. If you’re not sure, you’ll want to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible. Either way, stop drinking even before you get the results if you have suspicions that you are with child.
Consuming alcohol while pregnant not only significantly increases the chances of birth defects, and fetal alcohol syndrome, but alcohol also increases the chance of miscarriage. It’s better to be safe than sorry if you think there is any chance you are pregnant.
Yes, there have been studies arguing whether or not a small amount of alcohol is okay while you’re pregnant. However, we feel it’s best to err on the side of caution and abstain completely for the safety of both mother and child. Remember, when you are pregnant, everything you consume, your unborn baby consumes as well.
Are there other lifestyle changes you should make to get pregnant?
There are no guarantees that anything you do will help you get pregnant. Alcohol and fertility is only one element in a very large pool of possibilities when it comes to something as complex as infertility. Still, there are things you can do to make your body as healthy as possible, which could potentially increase your odds of conception. Just a few of these things are:
- Get your body to a healthy weight for your age and height
- If you have any illnesses or diseases, consider discussing treatments with your primary care physician to cure them, or at least manage symptoms
- Stop smoking, and cease using illicit drugs if you are currently engaging in these activities
- Avoid contact with toxins, and inhaling toxic substances
- Eat a well balanced diet daily
- Get regular sleep and exercise
- Discuss medications you are currently taking with your doctor if you suspect they are impeding your fertility
What if you stopped drinking completely, but are still having trouble conceiving?
Alcohol and fertility aside, even a couple doing all the “right things” can still face difficulties on their journey of achieving pregnancy. If this sounds like you, it might not be cause for concern. Then again, depending on your age and how long you have been trying to conceive, it could be time to seek the services of a fertility specialist.
In the event you’ve exhausted all efforts, or are just ready to have someone help you navigate the very confusing waters of conception, we hope you will think of the Center of Reproductive Medicine. Click here to learn about working with us. We look forward to making your dreams of starting or expanding your family a reality.