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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 23:50 GMT
Drinking 'may help conception'
Pregnant woman
A moderate amount of drinking may actually help a woman to become pregnant, research has found.

Scientists found that women who do not drink at all can actually take longer to become pregnant than those who drink up to two alcoholic beverages a day.


A moderate intake may correlate with a higher frequency of intercourse

Mette Juhl
Previous studies have suggested that even low levels of alcohol intake can increase the time it takes for a woman to get pregnant.

But the new study - a major work based on research on nearly 40,000 women - found that even high alcohol intake had no negative impact on women who had never given birth before.

Cautionary note

However Mette Juhl, the Danish researcher who headed the study, sounded a cautionary note.

She said: "Our research does not mean that consuming alcohol is better for fertility than not drinking alcohol at all.

"It is known from other studies that non-drinkers differ from moderate drinkers in many other aspects; for instance they may have a weaker constitution or other health problems which can influence fertility, directly or indirectly."

Ms Juhl and her colleagues, from centre in Copenhagen and Aarhus, did find that women who had given birth before and who consumed more than the Danish recommended maximum weekly intake of 14 alcoholic drinks did have to wait longer to get pregnant.

Older women and women who smoked or who were over-weight also had to wait longer.

Non-drinking, over-weight women had to wait the longest of all.

Questions

The researchers asked 39,612 women between 1997 and 2000 how much alcohol they had drunk weekly on average prior to conception and how long it had taken them to become pregnant.


I always advise women who want to get pregnant to take a glass of wine before they go to bed

Dr Peter Bowen-Simpkin
Low levels of drinking were measured as being between a half and two drinks a week, moderate drinking was between two and a half and 14 drinks a week, and high was measured as over 14 drinks a week.

Out of the 39,612 pregnancies, 29,844 were planned and did not have complicating factors such as endometriosis, ovarian or cervical cancer.

Of these 29,844 women, roughly half became pregnant within two months of trying, but 15% had to wait more than a year.

Most women (79%) reported an alcohol intake of between a half and seven drinks a week, 12% reported no intake at all and 1% reported a high intake.

Of the women with a high alcohol intake, 22% had to wait more than a year to become pregnant, while only 14% in the low-drinking group had to wait that long. In the group of women who drank no alcohol, 18% had to wait more than a year.

More intercourse

Ms Juhl said: "We do not expect alcohol to improve a woman's fertility, but a moderate intake may correlate with a higher frequency of intercourse, which may explain the longer waiting times in women who reported no intake.

"Small amounts of alcohol may have a positive impact on the female reproductive system, perhaps by helping women to feel more relaxed.

"However, it is important to underline that we only had information on average weekly intake of alcohol before pregnancy.

"Our results cannot rule out that alcohol intake on specific occasions around the time of ovulation may reduce the chance of becoming pregnant in that menstrual cycle."

Dr Peter Bowen-Simpkin, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the study confirmed what he had long suspected.

He told BBC News Online: "I always advise women who want to get pregnant to take a glass of wine before they go to bed.

"They will more relaxed, happy and much more likely to have sex at the right time."

Dr Bowen-Simpkin said stress played a major role in preventing successful conception.

The hormones released by the brain in response to stress can effect ovulation.

The research is published in the journal Human Reproduction.

See also:

27 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
Pregnancy alcohol limits 'too high'
27 May 01 | Health
Africa's unborn alcohol victims
15 Apr 01 | Health
Why alcohol affects women more
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