Fertility and Alcohol
We all know that you should NOT drink when you’re pregnant. However, this question also comes up A LOT when I see patients who are trying or struggling to conceive:
Is it OK to drink alcohol when you’re just trying to conceive?
There is no clear consensus about whether alcohol will have a significantly negative impact on your ability to get pregnant
What We Do NOT Know from the Research
HOWEVER, we must take into consideration that the research world cannot ethically put pregnant women into 3 groups to study:
- consuming a set amount of alcohol
- not consuming any alcohol at all
- consuming a set amount of a placebo alcohol drink
So this means that all of the research that we have on this topic is observational, or “after the fact”. And this eliminates MANY people from this equation.
What We DO Know From the Research
There may be a:
- Tendency for women who consumed higher amounts of alcohol to seek out fertility care.
- Lower probability of conception in women who drank at least 1 drink per menstrual cycle.
- Lower number of eggs collected from IVF patients in women who drank alcohol 1 month before their IVF cycle.
- Lesser conception rate in IVF patients who drank alcohol 1 month before their IVF cycle.
- Higher rate of miscarriage in IVF patients who drank alcohol 1 month before their IVF cycle.
- Higher IVF failure rate in patients who drank 1 week or 1 month before their IVF cycle
Yes, these are all “may be” statements and not 100% conclusive. However, from my perspective, if my patient has been struggling to get pregnant for X amount of time, I strongly encourage them to not consume alcohol while they continue to trying to conceive because there are MANY “may be” statements that add up to more than just “maybe”.
To Further Support LESS is More When It Comes to Alcohol and Fertility
A few questions I always ask my patients when it comes time to discuss alcohol consumption:
- How many alcoholic drinks do you consume in a week? This gives me a general idea of a patient’s weekly alcohol consumption
- How are these drink distributed throughout the week? ie. daily or primarily over a Friday/Saturday? This gives me a general idea of whether it’s spread out throughout the week or if its binged over 1-2 days a week.
- Do you mostly drink at home/friends’ homes or out at a restaurant or bar? This gives me a good idea of the portion of each drink. If you primarily drink at a restaurant or bar, then you have the standard drinks portioned out for you. If you primarily drink at home, then your wine/spirits consumption will likely be much bigger than a standard drink.
As an aside, the Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction updated its recommendations for alcohol consumption to the following (Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health) in 2023:
- 0 standard drinks* per week = not drinking has benefits such as better health and better sleep
- 1-2 standard drinks per week = likely to avoid alcohol-related consequences for yourself or others
- 3-6 standard drinks per week = increased risk of developing several types of cancers (including breast and colon cancer)
- 7+ standard drinks per week = significantly increased risk of heart disease or stroke (each additional standard drink radically increases the risk of alcohol-related consequences)
And a standard drink is defined as:
- Beer = 341 mL (12 oz) 5% alcohol
- Cooler, cider or ready-drink = 341 mL (12 oz) 5% alcohol
- Wine = 142 mL (5 oz) 12% alcohol
- Spirits (whisky, vodka, gin, etc) = 43 mL (1.5 oz) 40% alcohol
So What Do I Do If I Don’t Want to Tell Everyone that I’m TTC?!?
While I was trying to conceive for those 5 long years, I would always make sure that I wasn’t drinking AT ALL whenever there was even the slightest of chances that I was pregnant.
However, there were still times when I would go out with friends, be at a wedding or bachelorette party, or any other event where alcohol was involved where I wasn’t comfortable disclosing to everyone that I wasn’t drinking because I was TTC. I hated that whenever I would refuse an alcoholic beverage, everyone would whisper “are you pregnant??!”.
So my strategy was to order a drink that LOOKED like an alcoholic drink and then just sip is slowly throughout the night so that no one would question anything.
My personal favourite was a virgin gin & tonic because it was super simple.
Here are a few more virgin options that are easy to order quietly and taste pretty good!
- Gin & Tonic = sparkling water + lime
- Mojito = sparking water + lime juice + simple syrup + muddled mint leaves
- Sex on the Beach = orange juice + cranberry juice + peach nectar + grenadine + cherry + orange slide/pineapple wedge
- Cucumber Gimlet = club soda + sliced cucumber + lime juice + simple syrup
- Ginger Shirley Temple = ginger beer + grenadine + sprite
- Blueberry Mojjito = sparkling water + lime juice + simple syrup + muddled mint leaves + blueberries
- Bloody Mary = tomato juice + lemon juice + pickle/olive juice + Worchestershire sauce + horseradish + celery seed + hot sauce + cayenne
- Tequila Sunrise = orange juice + sparkling water + grenadine
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