Everyone knows that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. But what about before you’re pregnant, during the trying-to-conceive stage? Should women or their partners curb the alcohol for the best chances of pregnancy? There’s no evidence that the occasional drink—i.e. one or two a week—is going to torpedo your chances of parenthood. But it is true that the more you drink, the greater the likelihood it will have an effect on your health. Here’s what the research says about alcohol and your fertility, plus whether you should stop drinking if you’re trying to become parents.
- For women, alcohol consumption can be disruptive to hormonal balance and the menstrual cycle.
- For men, alcohol consumption is linked to sexual dysfunction, reduced sperm count and lower quality sperm.
- While abstaining isn’t necessary if you’re trying to conceive, limiting your alcohol consumption can help improve your fertility health.
The Impact of Alcohol on Female Fertility
Heavy drinking, which is what you’re doing if you’re drinking eight or more alcoholic drinks in a week or more than three at a time, is associated with a laundry list of health problems (1). For women who are trying to conceive, a drinking habit means a greater likelihood of issues including:
- Irregular menstrual cycle. Your cycle depends on a delicate and precise balance of hormones, and alcohol can really throw a wrench into things. A regular cycle makes it much easier to time sex for conception, you’re far more likely to experience skipped or irregular periods if you’re drinking excessively.
- Ovulatory disorders. Too much alcohol can interfere with ovulation. When an egg isn’t properly released, there is zero chance of conceiving.
- Hormonal imbalances. Alcohol intake seems to be associated with higher estrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) and a drop in progesterone. Again, hormonal balance is important for fertility and an imbalance to any of these sex hormones can throw everything out of whack.
- Reduced egg quality. One study found a link between alcohol consumption and egg quality, which reduces their viability for fertilization (2).
- Increased risk of miscarriage. More bad news—drinking during the preconception can also increase the risk of miscarriage in the event you do become pregnant.
The Impact of Alcohol on Male Fertility
For men, heavy drinking is north of 15 drinks per week, and it’s a habit that’s associated with a nosedive in fertility health. It’s not that alcohol kills sperm, exactly, but rather that it reduces semen health parameters across the board (3):
- Reduced sperm production. While men produce sperm around the clock, alcohol can interfere with normal production in the testes, leading to a lower sperm count. That means less sperm on hand for the race to the egg.
- Reduced sperm quality. Sperm health is measured with a few different parameters, including motility (how well it moves) and morphology (how properly it’s shaped). Sperm that can’t move properly or are abnormally shaped can’t move as efficiently to reach and ultimately fertilize an egg. And yes, you guessed it. Men who drink excessively, particularly those who binge drink (defined as five or more drinks in a few hours), are far more likely to have wonky sperm that swim in circles or nowhere at all.
- DNA damage. Oxidative stress and the subsequent free radical damage in the body are another unfortunate side effect of too much booze. That can create DNA damage in sperm cells, which opens the door to fertility problems and even potential birth defects in the event of a successful conception.
- Erectile dysfunction. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the charming “whiskey dick.” Men who drink excessively have a hard time getting and maintaining an erection, which presents another enormous hurdle to conceiving (4).
- Hormonal imbalance. Low testosterone levels can be another side effect of alcohol consumption.
Should You Stop Drinking If You’re Trying to Get Pregnant?
Clearly, too much alcohol wreaks havoc on male and female fertility alike. But the impact is directly caused by how much you’re drinking and how often you’re doing it. There’s really no need to cut out alcohol completely for the sake of your fertility health. In fact, abstaining completely may even be associated with lower sperm quality! Researchers are still puzzling this one out, but the current theory relates to the antioxidants in alcohol.
Still, it’s definitely important to be really honest with yourself about your consumption habits. There is no magic amount to drink to safeguard (or boost!) your fertility, but for men, somewhere around three to four bottles of beer, two to three mixed drinks or three glasses of wine in a week seems to be safe. If you’re currently downing more than that, cutting back should help improve your fertility health. Remember, the sperm maturation process is roughly three months, so you can really expect to see an improvement in any alcohol-related infertility issues in that time.
For women, the recommended amount of alcohol per week is even lower. Aim for light consumption, which is fewer than three glasses of wine in a week. And if you can time those drinks to the first half of your cycle, all the better. There’s some evidence that drinking in moderation (3 to 6 drinks per week) during the luteal phase, or the second half of the cycle, after ovulation, significantly reduces conception chances compared to those who don’t drink (5).
The Bottom Line
Experts recommend leading a healthy lifestyle when a couple is actively trying for a baby, and cutting back on alcohol is an important part of that. Eating nourishing foods, supplementing with high-quality prenatal vitamins (for her and for him!), exercising, managing stress, and limiting the booze are among the very best ways to support your fertility health during this exciting time.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Alcohol and Public Health.
- Wdowiak, A et al. (2014). Alcohol consumption and quality of embryos obtained in programmes of in vitro fertilization. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24959808/
- Jensen, T et al. (n.d.). Habitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish men. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005462
- The Sexual Medicine Society of North America. Alcohol and temporary erectile dysfunction. https://www.smsna.org/patients/did-you-know/alcohol-and-temporary-erectile-dysfunction
- Van Heertum, K et al. (2017). Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504800/