Sober October – Alcohol and Fertility

Infertility and stress go hand in hand. Finding ways to relax during your path to parenthood is one of the best ways to survive what can sometimes be a rocky road. For many people, that means a glass or two of wine or a favorite spirit or cocktail. A number of patients at Sher Fertility Institute New York in Manhattan tell us that a drink or two at dinner helps take the edge off and enables them to unwind after a stressful day.

We hear them, but we also counsel them to avoid alcohol and, instead, recommend relaxation alternatives. Why? Drew Tortoriello, MD of Sher Fertility Institute New York details below how alcohol can affect your efforts to get pregnant and suggests other ways to kick back and relax.

Not Even One Glass?
We all have that friend of a friend who got pregnant after a particularly boozy dinner party. It happens. We’re not suggesting that only people who never drink get pregnant. However, if you have issues with infertility and are undergoing treatment, it makes sense to do everything within your power to optimize your health. That means making lifestyle changes that will increase your overall well-being and, thereby, your odds of achieving a healthy pregnancy. And that includes restricting your alcohol intake.  Large population studies demonstrate that heavy alcohol  consumption (more than 2 drinks/day on average) exerts a significant negative impact on fertility. Studies examining the effect on fertility from minimal alcohol consumption are not consistent.   Some studies suggest that low intake such as a one or two glasses of wine per week might not be problematic, while other studies show that even minimal intake can have negative effects on the fertility of both women and men.  It’s been shown to decrease pregnancy rates (Hakim, 1998, Rossi, 2009). Therefore to play it safe, it is best to avoid it completely and not introduce any variables into the situation that might prove detrimental.  Certainly once you become pregnant, safety dictates that alcohol ought to be avoided completely for the simple reason that  it is impossible to establish the “safe level” of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. We do know that alcohol can potentially increase the rate of miscarriage (Klonoff-Cohen, 2003 study) and if taken in binges could impair the fetus physically and cognitively.

How Does Alcohol Affect Fertility
So, how exactly does alcohol affect your fertility? It’s not fully understood, but the general consensus is that alcohol has a direct toxic effect on sperm and eggs as well as a negative effect on hormonal production.  Alcohol affects hormones, particularly progesterone. Moderate to heavy female drinkers have lower levels of progesterone than women who don’t drink. Progesterone is important because it’s key to maintaining a thick uterine lining, which, in turn, is vital to keeping the implanted egg in place. Alcohol may also decrease egg production and quality, which could play a role in unsuccessful IVF cycles. For men, studies show decreased sperm mobility, motility, and velocity, along with an increase in sperm deformity.

Tips for Tranquility
Clearly, it’s best to avoid alcohol if you’re trying to conceive, but what if it’s one of your primary stress reducers? We have ahhh-inducing alternatives. Many patients at Sher Fertility Institute New York have found the following stress-busting suggestions to be beneficial in reducing their overall anxiety and helping them cope with the demands of infertility treatment.

  • Yoga: You may already be an ardent yogi, or maybe it’s something you’ve always meant to try. If you fall into the latter category, now’s the time to give it a try. Yoga reduces stress and promotes relaxation, but it also provides a host of fertility-boosting benefits including:
    • Promotes a positive mindset
    • Increases circulation to the reproductive system
    • Aids in immune health
    • Strengthens the endocrine system, which aids hormonal balance
    • Supports detoxification
  • Meditation: Even just five to ten minutes of meditation a day can have a measurable impact on stress. You don’t need an elaborate set up or any kind of training to practice meditation. There are many ways to approach it, such as walking, swimming, knitting…basically any activity that helps keep your attention focused on the present. If your thoughts start to wander, calmly bring your attention back to what you’re doing.
  • Spa Time: Treat yourself to your favorite spa treatment. Massages and facials are relaxing in and of themselves, but the downtime – no phones, work, or interruptions – that you experience is just as beneficial. Taking time for yourself is imperative to reducing stress in your life.
  • Rock Out: Or listen to your favorite symphony. Music has an amazing ability to affect our mood. It can be relaxing, reviving, or restorative. Choose your tunes based on what your body and soul need most on any given day.
  • Reconnect: Many couples trying to conceive find that their “couple time” all but disappears during their quest to have a baby. Amidst all of the appointments, medications, injections, monitoring, and financial concerns, their connection tends to fall by the wayside. Carve time out to do special things together…anything from dinner out to a movie to a day in the park can help restore your connection and ease the stress of your shared journey.

Contact Sher Fertility Institute New York at 646-792-7476 or click here to schedule an appointment with one of our fertility doctors. Our Patient Care Specialists will contact you within the next 24 hours.