How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Fertility?

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How does alcohol consumption affect fertility? The brief and simple answer is that in most instances, drinking alcohol can adversely affect fertility and can also cause damage to the baby.

And if alcohol abuse and alcoholism become part of the equation, the relationship between drinking alcohol and fertility becomes even more problematic.

Alcohol Guidelines are Not Perfect Systems of Measurement

Couples wanting to have children often ask the following: "how does alcohol consumption affect fertility"?

Obviously, the best place to find the answer to this question is in fertility research literature.

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Unfortunately, many of the studies seeking to understand the relationship between alcohol and fertility conflict.

While drinking alcohol certainly does affect fertility, experts in this area of research have neither been able to calculate how much alcohol must be ingested to affect fertility nor how much alcohol consumption is "safe."

Fertility researchers have typically discussed alcohol and fertility in terms of alcohol consumption.

That is, many research studies have focused on whether there is significant difference between low consumption, moderate consumption, and heavy or excessive alcohol consumption.

Keep in mind that when anyone discusses alcohol consumption and offers guidelines on drinking, a number of factors are at work.

For instance, since not everyone weights the same, has the same metabolism, is the same gender, is the same age, or reacts the same way to alcohol, any "guidelines" must be taken as that--guidelines and not a perfect system of measurement or calculation.

With this being said, the following represents the differences in low, moderate, and heavy or excessive alcohol consumption:

  • Low Alcohol Consumption: less than one drink per day (for instance, having 1 to 5 drinks per week at different times)

  • Moderate Alcohol Consumption: 1 or 2 drinks per day

  • Heavy or Excessive Alcohol Consumption: more than 2 drinks per day

Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Fertility?

Does alcohol consumption affect fertility? The short and simple answer is "yes," drinking alcohol can adversely affect fertility and can also cause damage to the baby.

While researchers have long been aware of the adverse effects of chronic alcoholism on fertility and on the health of the baby, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, many researchers are now finding that moderate alcohol consumption can also lead to similar issues.

Findings such as these have made their way into the doctors' offices.

Indeed, it has been found that many, if not most, doctors recommend that their patients fully disclose their drinking habits before they try to have a child so that the doctor can provide sound guidance and information that will help avoid fertility and conception problems.

If this "game plan" applies to people who drink in moderation, it become even more applicable when the topic of alcohol abuse and alcoholism is discussed.

Fertility and The Negative Results of Drinking Alcohol

The following represents some of the negative effects of drinking alcohol and the fertility and health issues of the mother and/or the baby:

  • Infertility

  • Increased risk for spontaneous abortion

  • Impaired fetal growth and development

  • Hypothalmic-pituitary-ovarian dysfunction resulting in the lack of ovulation, the abnormal development of the endometrial lining, and the absence of menses

  • Increased risk for a miscarriage, pre-term birth, or stillbirth

  • Numerous ovulatory dysfunctions

  • Increased risk of fetal alcohol syndrome and possible congenital heart defects and brain anomalies

  • Possible mental retardation in the baby

  • Increased menstrual problems and gynecologic surgery

  • Altered estrogen and progesterone levels

The following lists some of the negative consequences of drinking alcohol and the fertility of the father:

  • Abnormal liver function and a rise in estrogen levels that, in turn, affect sperm development and hormone levels

  • Killing off the sperm-generating cells in the testicles

Alcohol and Fertility

Let's think about the above information in practical terms. Virtually all researchers agree that excessive drinking (as characterized by alcohol abuse and alcoholism) significantly and negatively interferes with fertility for the woman AND for the men.

Furthermore, many researchers feel strongly about the negative affects of moderate drinking and fertility.

So the only "real" option revolves around the following question: will drinking low amounts of alcohol significantly affect our ability in having children or should we simply abstain from drinking alcohol?

What is considered "safe" or "optimal" changes over time as researchers discover more information.

For instance, for many years "optimal" blood pressure was "120 over 80."

In more medical terms, 120 over 80 means that the systolic pressure, a measure of the heart when it is beating, is 120 and the diastolic pressure, a measure of the heart at rest, is 80.

In the past few years, however, some medical practitioners and researchers have advocated that "optimal" blood pressure is not 120 over 80 but "115 over 75."

What does explanation about optimal blood pressure have to do with drinking alcohol and fertility?

Mainly this: If you are asking the question "how does alcohol consumption affect fertility," it is reasonable to conclude that you or your partner (or both) drink alcohol, one of both of you want to have a child, and you want to know how much alcohol you can consume before adversely affecting your health or the health of the baby.

For the sake of argument, let us state that the vast majority of current fertility researchers agree that drinking very small quantities of alcohol will not affect fertility much, if at all.

Fast forward 10 or 20 years. Would it surprise most people if fertility researchers in the future discover that even the smallest amounts of alcohol negatively affect fertility AND that drinking 24 to 48 hours before conception, for example, will possibly affect the health of the baby in a dangerous way?

Conclusion: How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Fertility?

Not unlike the changing views about "optimal" blood pressure measures, the negative affects of alcohol on fertility may be interpreted more conservatively in the future due to advancements in technology and in medical research.

While it would be nice to be able to enjoy a few drinks while we entertain or go out for the evening, if drinking alcohol is going to affect your ability to have children, why drink at all?

Stated another way, why not simply abstain from drinking alcohol while you are trying to have a child, while the woman is carrying the child, and while the woman is breast feeding the child?

From a different perspective, if having a few drinks may negatively affect a person's ability to have children, the situation is compounded if alcohol abuse and alcoholism become part of the equation.

In other words, if alcohol consumption does in fact affect fertility, then alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect fertility even more than infrequent or moderate drinking.

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Perhaps the most powerful argument advocating total abstinence concerning fertility, pregnancy, and breast feeding is that refraining from drinking any alcohol during these activities totally eliminates the infinite number of destructive "what if" scenarios that can be imagined.

Not only this, but abstention from all alcohol will also rule out any negative alcohol-related consequences associated with the health of your baby and should give you the peace of mind knowing that you are doing the best you can to give your future child the greatest hope for a life without preventable medical problems.

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