It’s the time of year where indulgence reigns supreme and moderation is tossed to the wind. Everywhere you look there is peppermint bark, frosted sugar cookies, and sparkling glasses of champagne. Temptation at every turn!
You’ll likely find yourself at one (or several) holiday parties where the holiday tunes are jamming, you’re looking sleek in that luxurious red velvet skirt, and the boozy eggnog and mulled wine is flowing. Someone will hand you a mouthwatering cocktail and you’ll be faced with the age-old question...to drink or not to drink?
If you’re trying to conceive or in the middle of fertility treatment, this can be a tough question. A drink can help put you in the mood, and it can also help take the edge off the stress that comes with the holidays and fertility treatment. But drinking has also been known to induce anxiety, depression, and restlessness - which can eclipse all of the liquid relaxation you were seeking in the first place.
We sat down with Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron to get clarity on this question and to help arm you with a fertility-friendly drinking plan for the holidays.
Q: Do you get this question more around this time of year?
Everyone definitely drinks more this time of year, but they don’t necessarily want to be told to stay away from it! Many patients feel concerned that they could be “outed” by their family if they are not drinking and are not ready to discuss their fertility journey. In general, modest alcohol is okay. After ovulation or during fertility treatments I would restrain.
Q: Shoot us straight - how exactly does drinking impact a woman’s fertility?
Drinking too much can set off a negative chain reaction in your body that starts with impacting liver function, which also has a role in hormone function. If your hormones are disrupted, this can impact your fertility. I would view alcohol as distracting the liver from doing its job in regards to hormone regulation and medication metabolism if in treatment. Too many drinks also mean too many calories, which can lead to weight gain. Excess weight can disrupt the hormones, which can then interrupt ovulation and the monthly cycle as a whole. And if you’re in the habit of having a cigarette with your drink, don’t! Smoking wreaks havoc on fertility in many different ways. The true concern of alcohol is drinking while pregnant and there has not been established a “safe” level.
Q: What about men - does it impact them too?
Men are definitely not off the hook - all of the above also applies. If the liver is impacted by drinking, the hormones can be thrown off, which can impact sperm quality. Excess weight in men also can impact sperm health, as does smoking. Set a goal together and support each other not to have “just one more” at the end of the party. You’ll thank me in the morning!
Q: Is drinking a little bit okay?
When it comes to drinking, it’s likely a dose-response relationship, meaning that as drinking increases incrementally, the potential negative effects may shift dramatically. Like most things in life, a little is ok but a lot is not!
Q: What drinking limits do you recommend?
If you are trying for a baby, it is best to limit alcohol consumption to four drinks total (at most) per week. Remember that one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4.5 ounces of wine, or one ounce of liquor. Research shows that if one or both partners go beyond that limit, odds of treatment success are reduced. If you’re tempted to drink more, switch to a non-alcoholic drink or water instead. Alcohol dehydrates, so you’ll likely need it anyway. It is also better to drink a little bit over many days than a lot on one day. Once you achieve a positive pregnancy test, switch to sparkling grape juice and celebrate!
This post was written in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, a board-certified physician in OB/GYN and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Her personal practice philosophy stems not only from her clinical expertise but from her experience as a woman and a mother. She understands the importance of individualized, comprehensive infertility care.