Health & Fitness

How alcohol prevents women from conceiving

Woman drinking a beer out at a beach bar

Women seeking to conceive and have children are advised to keep off alcohol so as to increase their conception success rates or likelihood of becoming pregnant. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Summary

  • At the end of the study, findings showed that both heavy and moderate drinking led to a 44 percent reduced chance of conceiving for those that consumed alcohol during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.

Kenyans enjoy taking alcohol for leisure, especially during social events or gatherings as they connect and have fun with friends or loved ones.

A majority of those who drink consider the habit to be harmless, so long as they drink responsibly and take alcohol in moderation.

But this may not be the case for women seeking to conceive and have children.

This group of individuals are advised to keep off alcohol so as to increase their conception success rates or likelihood of becoming pregnant.

A new study published in the Human Reproduction Journal links alcohol consumption, especially during the second half of women’s menstrual cycles, to difficulties in conceiving among those affected.

The study is the first to look at the impact of alcohol on pregnancy during the different phases of women’s menstrual cycles.

During the study, researchers investigated the effect of drinking on the probability of women conceiving during a single menstrual cycle.

They recruited 413 women aged between 19 and 41 years who were followed for a maximum of 19 menstrual cycles over a four-year period in the United States.

The women provided daily information in their diaries on the type and amount of alcohol that they drank.

They also provided urine tests on the first and second day of each menstrual cycle that was used to check for pregnancy.

For the purposes of the study, heavy drinking was defined as more than six alcoholic drinks a week, while moderate drinking was capped at three to six drinks a week. Binge drinking on the other hand, was defined as four or more drinks on a single day.

Each drink consisted of a third of a litre of beer (355 millilitres), a medium glass of wine (148 millilitres), or just under a double shot of spirits (44 millilitres).

At the end of the study, findings showed that both heavy and moderate drinking led to a 44 percent reduced chance of conceiving for those that consumed alcohol during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.

This refers to the last two weeks of the cycle before bleeding would start and when the process of implantation of a fertilised egg usually occurs in the uterus.

During the ovulatory phase of the cycle, when eggs are usually released from the ovary, heavy drinking was also associated with a 61 percent reduced chance of becoming pregnant.

For most women, this ovulation process usually occurs in the four days before or after the mid-point of the menstrual cycle.

"We found that drinking during any phase of the menstrual cycle was significantly associated with a reduced probability of conception compared to non-drinkers. This is important because some women who are trying to conceive might believe it is safe to drink during certain parts of the menstrual cycle,” stated Dr Kira Taylor, the lead author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology and population health at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences in the US.

According to the study, the adverse effects of drinking on pregnancy could be due to the fact that alcohol intake disrupts biological processes involved in ovulation, which interferes with the production of eggs that are a prerequisite for conception to take place.

Alcohol intake could also affect the ability of a fertilised egg to implant itself successfully in the womb or uterus where the growth and development journey usually begins.

"Finally, the results in this study should not be construed to mean that drinking alcohol totally prevents pregnancy. In other words, alcohol is not birth control. Even if a woman drinks alcohol heavily, if she has unprotected intercourse, she can become pregnant," cautioned Dr Taylor.

But even if they become pregnant, continued consumption of alcohol can still have detrimental effects on the child.

Since babies cannot process alcohol as well as adults can, too much exposure to it can seriously affect their development.

Drinking alcohol - especially in the first three months of pregnancy - increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and babies being born with a low birth weight that is detrimental for their health.

Alcohol consumption that continues afterwards, could affect the baby once they are born. The effects include poor growth, learning difficulties and behavioural problems.