Despite what you may have seen on Mad Men, it's well known by now that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. But what about alcohol before you’re actually pregnant? Is it safe to have your favorite cocktail while you're trying to conceive?
Ideally, it's better safe than sorry, says Dr. Erin Higgins, clinical instructor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health. Here’s everything you need to know about drinking alcohol while trying to conceive.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Erin Higgins is an OB/GYN at the Cleveland Clinic in Independence, Ohio. She was previously a clinical instructor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health.
Drinking While Pregnant
Cocktails with a baby on board is generally a big no-no; Higgins explains, “Alcohol easily crosses the placenta to the fetus, which is often exposed to higher amounts than the mother due to the fetus' lower ability to process alcohol.” Because of this, consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can cause various disorders within the spectrum of fetal alcohol syndrome. These disorders include learning, behavioral, and physical disabilities that may have a life-long impact.
In general, the extent of the defects and disabilities tend to get worse with increasing amounts and frequency of alcohol exposure, however there is no known amount of alcohol that is safe in pregnancy. Because of this, it is generally advised to abstain completely, though some studies argue that light to moderate drinking during pregnancy is acceptable.
Alcohol use during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
And for those left wondering about if a cocktail is worse than a beer? “All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including wine and beer,” Higgins says.
When to Stop Drinking If You're Trying to Get Pregnant
Ideally, Higgins says the best time for women to stop drinking alcohol would be prior to attempting to conceive, including the period of time before her first missed period, also known as the “two week wait.”
The Center for Disease Control takes that warning even further, saying that women should also abstain from drinking if they are sexually active without an effective means of birth control. They warn, “This is because a woman might get pregnant and expose her baby to alcohol before she knows she is pregnant. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Most women will not know they are pregnant for up to 4 to 6 weeks.”
If you’re reading this and realize you’ve indulged a bit prior to just finding out you were pregnant, though, try not to panic. Higgins explains, “While no amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe in pregnancy, it is unlikely that serious harm would result. The best thing to do is to stop drinking from that point forward.”
Alcohol and Fertility Overall
When trying to get pregnant, you might be surprised to find out that alcohol use can impact your fertility. While the effect of moderate alcohol use is unclear, it is known that, heavy alcohol use can negatively impact fertility and decrease ovarian reserve, which refers to the ability to conceive based on number of oocytes/eggs Higgins explains.
Men aren’t immune, either. Higgins says it’s important to note that heavy alcohol use can also negatively affect male fertility by lowering sperm counts and increasing sexual dysfunction.
In general, if you’re trying for a baby, and especially for those using infertility treatments, you should, minimize alcohol use due to the potential negative impact.
The bottom line? It’s best to stop drinking completely before you attempt to conceive. Actually, Higgins advises that, “In general, if you're trying to conceive, it is best to behave as if you are pregnant until you know that you are not (i.e. abstain from alcohol, limit caffeine intake, and avoid processed or undercooked meats and soft cheeses)."
If you’re having trouble abstaining from alcohol or believe that you might have a drinking problem, Higgins encourages you speak about it with your physician; there are many resources available to help you quit, including counseling, support groups, and outpatient treatment programs.
And of course, for any specific concerns unique to you and your fertility journey, seek the advice of your physician.