Alcohol and fertility have had a long relationship, and there’s little doubt alcohol’s played its part in a fair few pregnancies…but when a couple really want a baby it’s not that helpful! While alcohol reduces inhibitions and can make people feel more ‘in the mood’, it does harm both men and women’s fertility and the effect of alcohol on their eggs and sperm can have long-term consequences for their children.
Quite ‘how much’ alcohol is enough to really effect fertility isn’t known, and it probably varies across the population as tolerance to alcohol varies a lot, but the official advice is it’s safest to avoid alcohol if you’re planning on getting pregnant as we do know alcohol changes a woman’s likelihood of conceiving:i
- 1-5 drinks a week reduce the chances of pregnancy by 39%
- Over 10 drinks a week reduce the chances of pregnancy by 66%
Alcohol also increases the chances of problems in pregnancy, with women who drink ten or more drinks a week being 2-3 times more likely to have a miscarriage. However the effect of the man drinking is really surprising as when he has over ten drinks a week the probability of his partner miscarrying is even greater than if the women drank the same amount, as the risk of miscarriage becomes 2-5 times in comparison to if he’s not drinking.ii
Drinking too much alcohol, particularly early on in the pregnancy (weeks six to nine) can cause lasting damage to a developing foetus as this is when important organs including the brain, heart and kidneys are developing. High levels of alcohol can endanger the health of the unborn child,iii and in extremes lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), two physical and developmental disorders that have serious lifelong consequences for the child.
It’s also possible to measure the impact of much more moderate drinking in pregnancy on the long-term development of children; for example the sons of women who drank 4½ or more alcoholic drinks a week during their pregnancy grew up to have reduced sexual