Alcohol in Preconception and Pregnancy

 “should you or shouldn’t you”?

Working with women in preconception and pregnancy care, I get asked the question about alcohol consumption.  Most clients are aware that alcohol is not recommended when trying to conceive and whilst pregnant or breast feeding.  Yet, when trying to conceive a healthy baby, many women are concerned about becoming too obsessive and rigid, and that they are missing out, or just a little won’t harm!  So, “should you, or shouldn’t you”?

Let’s look at some facts.

Alcohol in Preconception

When trying to conceive, consumption of alcohol reduces the absorption of zinc and B6.  Zinc and B6 are both vital for the production of female sex hormones, and low zinc levels have been linked to fertility issues.  Alcohol also increases the excretion of folic acid in the urine – a deficiency of folic acid can lead to neural tube defects.  For women, alcohol can contribute to irregular periods, irregular ovulation and luteal phase defect, all reducing chances of conception.

For a male, alcohol is the most common cause of male impotence.  Exposing sperm to the toxic effects of acetaldehyde, a by-product of alcohol metabolism, causes a deterioration in sperm concentration and a decrease in sperm output and motility, adversely affecting the formation of sperm tails.  These effects are reversible if the male gives up alcohol until conception, allowing for improvement of the sperm profile.

It is accepted that making lifestyle changes to fall pregnant can be amongst the biggest hurdles to overcome for couples.  However, the facts support the view that couples who abstain from drinking generally fall pregnant quicker than those that drink regularly. 

Alcohol during Pregnancy

For a fetus, one of the many negative consequences of exposure to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk of drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists at the University of Buffalo research institute on addictions have been researching how prenatal alcohol exposure alters the reward system in the brain and how this change continues through adulthood.  The key appears to lie with endocannabinoids, cannabis like chemicals that are produced by the brain itself.  When the prenatal brain is exposed to alcohol, the endocannabinoids have a different affect on certain dopamine neurons involved in addiction behaviours in comparison to a brain that is not exposed to alcohol.  For a prenatal brain that is exposed to alcohol the dopamine neurons in the brain become more sensitive to drugs, and later in life a person needs less drugs to become addicted. 

Alcohol also impacts on the anatomy of the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for complex behaviour and cognition in humans, leading to abnormal motor behaviour and increased anxiety in the exposed offspring.

Conclusion

With all of this in mind, abstaining from drinking alcohol while you are trying to conceive or during pregnancy is a positive decision. In addition, this decision can also contribute to your general wellbeing by promoting better sleep, more focus and more energy.  However, it’s not just about what you put into your body that is important, but also how you live, your stress levels, activity levels and other good and bad habits.

As a Dr. Chinese medicine, I take a closer look at your lifestyle and help to highlight ways that support your body while trying to have a baby and during pregnancy.

Melinda Webb, Dr. Chinese medicine, Calmbirth Practitioner and Doula

 

Alcohol in Preconception and Pregnancy

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