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Can I Get Pregnant When I've Been Drinking? Here's What Experts Recommend

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If you're trying to conceive, you may have heard conflicting advice in regards to drinking. My OB-GYN told me that it's OK to "drink until it's pink" — meaning I needed to ditch the wine the moment I had a positive pregnancy test. My midwife, however, told me that a glass of wine or two a week was no problem throughout pregnancy. Other moms I know were told to stop drinking when they were trying to conceive. So, it's natural to wonder, can I get pregnant when I've been drinking?

The answer, according to experts is, yes, but with a few caveats. Moderate drinking shouldn't affect your chances of getting pregnant, but you might want to cut down on the amount of alcohol you consume while you are trying to conceive, for a variety of reasons. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age abstain completely from alcohol.

This recommendation, however, might be unrealistic, as according to researchers at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, over half of U.S. women consume alcohol when they conceive. A large review of studies published in the journal Fertility Research and Practice showed little to no relationship between moderate drinking and fertility or miscarriage risk. Similarly, a large study of Danish women showed that drinking fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week didn't impact fertility in women. Since heavier drinking might be another story entirely, some experts recommend that women try to reduce their alcohol use, rather than abstain entirely, so there's a more realistic and balanced approach to life when trying to conceive.

In 2016 the CDC released new guidelines for women and alcohol, recommending that all woman of childbearing age, who are not using birth control, stop drinking alcohol entirely, whether they are pregnant or not. Their website published the following advisory:

Women also should not drink alcohol if they are sexually active and do not use effective contraception (birth control). 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 don't follow this advice, though, you aren't alone. According to researchers at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, while 90 percent of U.S. women stop drinking once they have a positive pregnancy test, they don't necessarily do so beforehand, with 55 percent of women who are trying to conceive deciding not to change their drinking habit until they know for sure if they're pregnant. As a result, the Vanderbilt researchers suggest that women who think they might be pregnant test earlier to learn their pregnancy status sooner than later, rather than trying to abstain from drinking.

Many people, including some experts, find the CDC guidelines to be unrealistic (not to mention patronizing). In her editorial published in the British Journal of Medicine, epidemiologist Annie Britton suggested that this recommendation was too restrictive, considering that trying to conceive is stressful and drinking probably won't impact someone's chances of getting pregnant. Britton cites a large Danish study, which found that women who drank less than 14 servings of alcohol experienced no impact on their fertility. The same study did find that drinking more than 14 servings did decrease a person's chances of getting pregnant by 18 percent.

Similarly, a large review of available research published in the journal Fertility Research and Practice revealed that most studies found no relationship between moderate alcohol use and women's fertility. However, for women using reproductive technology to conceive, even a small amount of alcohol has been associated with negative outcomes. According to the same review, alcohol consumption only increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth at levels higher than four drinks per week, if at all.

If you do choose to drink alcohol while trying to conceive, you might want to opt for a glass of red wine. A recent study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility showed that a glass of red wine per week might actually boost your fertility, due to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grapes.

Choosing to "drink 'til it's pink" or abstain from alcohol entirely while trying to conceive is a personal choice. If you enjoy an occasional libation, you should know that, yes, you can get pregnant when you've been drinking. In other words, plan accordingly, and if you're concerned about your chances of getting pregnant you may want to try cutting down on alcohol. And, as always, if you have additional questions or concerns, consult your health care provider.

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