Do You Need to Avoid Alcoholic Drinks When Trying to Get Pregnant?

How Alcoholic Beverages Impact Fertility, Pregnancy, and Miscarriage Risk

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), three out of four women report consuming alcoholic beverages while trying to get pregnant.

While the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are well-known, many people wonder if consuming alcohol before conception also carries risk. Here's what you need to know about the recommendations for alcohol use if you are trying to conceive.

Drinking while pregnant
Verywell / Jessica Olah 

Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) both recommend that you completely avoid consuming alcohol during pregnancy as well as while you are trying to get pregnant.

There is no minimum amount of alcohol determined to be safe in pregnancy.

Keeping the broad recommendations in mind, there are three common questions many people have about consuming alcohol while trying to conceive:

  • Could drinking while you are trying to conceive cause harm to a fetus?
  • Does drinking lower your fertility and make it harder to get pregnant?
  • Will drinking in early pregnancy increase your risk of miscarriage?

Drinking in the First Month

What if alcohol was consumed before you knew you were pregnant? Remember that once you get a positive pregnancy test result back, you’re already (at least) four weeks pregnant. The embryo, which will hopefully develop into a healthy baby, has existed for two or more weeks.

Whether alcoholic drinks consumed during this period are dangerous is a tricky question to answer. However, there is a short "all or none" period prior to when pregnancy is recognized, at which time a pregnancy either goes forward despite alcohol use or it does not.

Research Findings

A study of over 5,000 women looked at the association between drinking alcoholic drinks prior to and up to 15 weeks of the pregnancy. (Note that 15 weeks is beyond the first four weeks; there is a lack of research on drinking only during the first four weeks).

25% of women in the group reported drinking between three and seven alcoholic drinks per week in the months before and during early pregnancy. The study found no association between drinking alcohol prior to 15 weeks of pregnancy and low birth weight, slow intrauterine growth, preeclampsia, or preterm birth.

However, the researchers did not report on early miscarriage rates and cognitive or behavioral issues after childbirth. Once again, it's important to point out that there is no minimum amount of alcohol determined to be safe in pregnancy.

Possible Dangers

No safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been definitively determined. Many individual variables must be taken into account when assessing risk, including maternal alcohol metabolic clearance rate, fetal developmental sensitivity based on gestational age, various genetic components, binge drinking behavior versus casual drinking habits, and the use of other substances in conjunction with alcohol.

Guidelines from medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) consistently recommend NO alcohol during pregnancy. 

Organizations such as ACOG, as well as the CDC, do not provide concrete recommendations about the use of alcohol during the preconception phase. However, they do recommend total abstinence once pregnancy is known. 

These organizations also recommend routine screening for alcohol use and abuse, as well as educational counseling, during pre-conceptual visits with physicians.

Drinking during pregnancy has been associated with:

Is Limited Drinking Safe?

Confusion on this topic largely comes from a study that claimed that one alcoholic drink per day did not increase the risk of preterm delivery or a low-birth-weight baby. The study was widely covered in the media, leaving many women asking whether it is really necessary to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

The problem is that the researchers did not look at the possible cognitive and psychological impact of alcohol on a developing fetus. Even if a baby is born at a healthy weight, they may still struggle with lifelong learning challenges.

Bottom line: once you know you’re pregnant, stop drinking to be prudent. Whether you decide to drink while trying to conceive or not, you should say no to alcoholic drinks as soon as your period is late—even if you have yet to receive a positive pregnancy test result.

Risk of Miscarriage

Studies offer conflicting results as to whether drinking increases your risk of early miscarriage.

Some research says there’s no increased risk, but other studies say drinking can lead to miscarriage—especially if alcohol consumption exceeds three or more drinks per day.

A large study of almost 18,000 women looked at drinking habits and miscarriage risk. They found that drinking before becoming pregnant was not associated with an increased risk of miscarriage for women who did not have a history of pregnancy loss.

Another study found that the miscarriage risk didn’t increase for women until they exceeded two drinks per day prior to getting pregnant.

However, research looking at alcoholic consumption in IVF patients revealed a different result. A 2003 study found that female patients at fertility clinics who drank one or more drinks per day had more than twice the risk of miscarriage compared to women who drank less than one drink a day.

The increased risk for early pregnancy loss was even higher if women had been drinking during the week before starting IVF treatment.

Impact of Male Drinking

Male drinking was also found to have risks for IVF patients. For men who drank just one serving of alcohol per day from one week to a month before IVF treatment, the risk of miscarriage doubled.

Furthermore, drinking one week before sperm collection for IVF treatment was associated with an increased miscarriage risk by up to 38 times.

Reduction in Fertility

If you're wondering if having a few drinks will have an adverse effect on your fertility, the answer is unclear. Some studies have found evidence that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol daily can significantly increase the risk of infertility.

For example, a 2017 study found that in women who drank less than one serving of alcohol per day, the risk of infertility was lower than for women who consumed more alcohol.

However, a study of approximately 29,000 Danish women found that those who drank wine tended to get pregnant sooner than women who drank no alcohol at all. Furthermore, a study of approximately 1,700 Italian women found no connection between drinking when trying to conceive and the time to conception.

That said, just as it is for early miscarriage risk, all of that changes when looking at research on IVF patients.

In a study of 2,908 couples, the risk of IVF failure almost tripled when women drank one serving of alcohol a month before treatment, and the risk quadrupled if the drink occurred within a week of treatment.

Men who drank within a week to a month of treatment also negatively impacted the couple’s IVF success rates.

The Bottom Line

We know that drinking during pregnancy can harm an unborn child. It's possible that research may one day support claims that an occasional alcoholic drink is harmless during pregnancy. However, there is not enough evidence to definitely say that any amount of alcohol is absolutely safe to consume if you are pregnant.

There is a difference between drinking during pregnancy and drinking before pregnancy occurs (when you are trying to conceive).

For those with normal fertility, it appears that an occasional drink while trying to conceive might not be harmful. While it's still an uncertain claim, there is not a large body of evidence to suggest that it is definitely harmful.

The outlook is less optimistic when looking at fertility patients going through IVF. In these cases, having even one drink per day within a month of treatment has been shown to harm a couple’s odds of IVF success.

Consult Your Doctor

You should discuss your decision about consuming alcohol while trying to conceive with your doctor. While the CDC and ACOG officially do not recommend drinking at all when trying to get pregnant, your healthcare provider will have their own opinion and recommendations.

Here are some options to consider discussing with your doctor:

  • You could choose to abstain from all alcoholic beverages while you are trying to get pregnant.
  • You could choose to limit yourself to only occasional drinks (less than once a week) while you are trying to conceive.
  • You could choose to have only one drink per week while trying to get pregnant.

A Word From Verywell

You'll also want to think about your (future) emotional state as you are considering your options for consuming alcohol while trying to conceive. If you have a beer and your cycle fails or you have an early miscarriage, will that single drink haunt you?

If the answer for you is yes, then it’s probably better to say no to consuming alcohol during the period while you are trying to get pregnant.

If you are going to drink when trying to conceive, you may also want to:

When and if you decide to drink while trying to conceive, be aware of portion sizes and the alcoholic content of your drink.

Finally, the moment your period is late—or you get back a positive pregnancy test—just say no to any alcohol. The health of your baby is too important to take the risk.

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Article Sources
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