AARHUS, Denmark, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- While drinking alcohol during pregnancy has known risks, Danish researchers found drinking has little affect on the ability of a woman to become pregnant.
Moderate drinking -- about 14 drinks per week -- does not decrease a woman's fecundity, and having more than that decreases the chances for pregnancy, but not significantly, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
A 2003 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests binge drinking, and intoxication overall, can increase the chances of unintended pregnancy. The study tied the unintended pregnancies among participants to intoxication and risky behavior, rather than the effects of alcohol.
Researchers at Aarhus University sought to find the effects of overall alcohol consumption on conception, enrolling in the study 6,120 Danish women between ages 21 and 45 in a stable relationship with a male partner who were trying to conceive.
The women were asked to report their weekly alcohol consumption and timing of menstrual cycles until they got pregnant -- which 69 percent of women achieved. Median alcohol intake among the women was two drinks per week, but women reporting up to 14 drinks per week did not appear to have trouble conceiving.
Compared to women who abstained from alcohol while trying to get pregnant, those who imbibed more than 14 servings of wine, beer or spirits saw an 18 percent decrease in their chance for pregnancy. The researchers called the difference for heavier drinkers insignificant, though.
"A fetus can be vulnerable to the effects of alcohol in the first few weeks after conception, so during the days from ovulation until the chance of pregnancy is precluded, it is smart to hold back," Ellen Mikkelsen, a researcher at Aarhus's department of clinical epidemiology and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "On the other hand, the study shows that giving up alcohol is an unnecessary limitation to impose on yourself."
Despite the large number of women in the study, the researchers note two weaknesses in their study: Participants' alcohol consumption was self-reported, which means it could be inaccurate, and the researchers did not distinguish between regular and binge drinking.
When taken into consideration with earlier studies, on binge drinking and drinking overall while attempting to conceive, researchers say the new study suggests the choice to drink has more to do with a woman's own desire than with potential health effects.
"For women trying to conceive, improving their physical health makes sense, and this may include a reduction in alcohol intake," Dr. Annie Britton, a researcher at University College London, wrote in an editorial published with the study in The BMJ. "However, the latest evidence from this Danish study is that total abstinence may not be necessary to maximize conception rates. The decision whether to consume alcohol is a woman's individual choice and one that may involve weighing up the possible harm and associated guilt of drinking during [unknown] early pregnancy."