Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco
What should I do about drugs, alcohol, or tobacco? Why should I quit before I even get pregnant?
Why should I stop drinking before I become pregnant?
Why should I stop smoking before I get pregnant?
What drugs should I avoid if I'm planning to become pregnant?
Should my partner/the prospective father of my child quit, too?
What should I do about drugs, alcohol, or tobacco? Why should I quit before I even get pregnant?If
you are thinking about getting pregnant, it is important to stop
drinking and smoking before you try to conceive. It is also important
to stop using illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy and
other amphetamines, and heroin. All of these substances can be harmful
to your health and can interfere with your chances of becoming
pregnant. Your physical health before pregnancy affects the health of
your future baby, so we recommend that you stop drinking and smoking,
and using illegal drugs before trying to conceive. A baby's organs
begin to form in the early weeks of pregnancy before you even know you
are pregnant. Fetal exposure to drugs, alcohol and tobacco can
put your baby at risk for serious health problems, so stop using them
before you get pregnant.
Why should I stop drinking before I become pregnant?While some experts have found that moderate drinking (one drink a day for women) can have some health benefits for the heart, no level of alcohol has been proven safe for women trying to get pregnant;
and, it can reduce your chances of conceiving. It is well established
that drinking alcohol can cause birth defects, particularly during the
first weeks of pregnancy (perhaps before you know you're pregnant) when
the vital organs of the fetus are developing. There are also the risks
of mental retardation, miscarriage, and low birthweight which have been
linked to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Why should I stop smoking before I get pregnant? Because
of the damage that might be done to the developing fetus in the first
few weeks of pregnancy - often before a woman realizes she's pregnant -
experts strongly recommend that women and their partners stop smoking
before trying to conceive.
Smoking may make it more difficult for you to conceive. If you
can't stop smoking before you become pregnant, we strongly urge you to
stop as soon as you learn you are pregnant. The more you smoke,
the greater the risk is to your baby. As soon as you stop
smoking, even if you are already pregnant, the risks to your baby
decrease. If you cannot quit, reducing the amount you smoke and
the exposure to secondhand smoke may lower your risks.
The smoke you inhale when you smoke, and the secondhand (or sidestream)
smoke you inhale when your partner or others smoke, can harm your
developing baby and result in:
- premature birth
- a low birthweight baby
- premature rupture of membranes
- problems with the placenta
There is also an increased risk of the baby dying from Sudden
Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Children who have been
exposed to cigarette smoke before birth may get asthma and have
learning and behavioral problems. They might also be more prone to ear
There are many resources available to help you stop smoking, and
techniques you can use to break the smoking habit by yourself or with
help from your health care provider.
What drugs should I avoid if I'm planning to become pregnant?It's best to stop using all drugs before trying to get pregnant.
- Recreational street drugs have the potential to harm you and your baby:
- Cocaine use in early pregnancy may increase your risk of
miscarriage. Cocaine-exposed babies are more likely than
unexposed babies to be born with low birthweight and are at increased
risk of certain birth defects including urinary-tract defects and heart
defects. Babies exposed to cocaine are more likely to have a stroke, be
born prematurely and have smaller heads. They may be also have feeding
and sleep difficulties.
- Heroin and other narcotics can cause miscarriages, premature
births, and low birthweight in exposed babies. Most babies exposed to
heroin before birth suffer from withdrawal symptoms after they are born
and are at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- PCP ("angel dust") can lead to small babies and babies with poor control of their movements.
- LSD may lead to birth defects.
- Glue and solvent sniffing may cause birth defects similar to those caused by alcohol.
- Amphetamines (including methylamphetamine, also known as speed, ice, crank and crystal meth) are
powerful stimulants that may cause birth defects including cleft palate
and heart and limb defects. Women who take amphetamines may be
too malnourished to properly support her pregnancy and growing fetus.
Amphetamine use during pregnancy can contribute to serious pregnancy
complications such as maternal high blood pressure, premature delivery
and excess maternal bleeding following delivery.
- Marijuana can lead to low birthweight newborns, babies
having withdrawal-like symptoms including excessive crying, and tremors
(shaking), and children with an increased risk of attention disorders
and learning problems. Use of marijuana during the first month of
breastfeeding can impair infant motor skills development.
- Medical prescription drugs sold illegally for recreational use can be potentially dangerous to the user. The most commonly misused prescribed drugs are:
- OxyContin, a time-release pain medication, is addicting and
has powerful withdrawal symptoms. An overdose can cause respiratory
failure and death.
- Ketamine ("Special K"), a tranquilizer used on humans and animals, causes delirium, amnesia, depression, and long-term memory problems.
- Rohypnol, a powerful tranquilizer, is not prescribed in the
United States but is illegally imported from other countries. It is
often called "the date rape drug."
- "Designer" drugs are now among the most popular recreational
drugs. There have not been any long-term studies of these chemically
manufactured substances, but short-term studies and anecdotal data
suggest they are dangerous and not something with which you should
experiment if you are considering getting pregnant. Designer drugs
- Ecstasy (MDMA), is a stimulant. A small study on its use
during pregnancy found a possible increase in the risk of congenital
heart defects and in females, a birth defect called clubfoot.
- GHB, a "date rape drug," causes unconsciousness, seizures,
severe respiratory depression, and coma in women exposed to high
dosages of the drug.
- GBL, a compound used to make GHB, can be used by itself, and has effects similar to GHB.
Should my partner/the prospective father of my child quit, too?The
amount of data available on the effect of drugs on men varies depending
on the type of drug. It is well established that heavy drinking impairs
sexual performance. There is limited but compelling evidence that the
sperm of men who have three to four drinks a day may become damaged and
that their children may be born with low birthweight - a factor that
will influence their overall health in infancy. Your partner's
smoking can lower his fertility, damage his sperm, and make it more
difficult for you to conceive. There is also some research that
suggests that more than 700mg of caffeine a day (about 5 cups of
regular coffee) may affect the health and/or survival rate of
Men who wish to become fathers and live a long and healthy life with
their children will enjoy the same health benefits (reduced likelihood
of premature death and disability) as women who stop using drugs,
alcohol and tobacco. The best way to protect a future baby from the
dangers of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco is to stop using these
substances before getting pregnant.
© 2014 Childbirth Connection. All rights reserved.
Childbirth Connection is a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1918 as Maternity Center Association. Our mission is to improve the quality of maternity care through research, education, advocacy and policy. Childbirth Connection promotes safe, effective and satisfying evidence-based maternity care and is a voice for the needs and interests of childbearing families.
Most recent page update: 10/26/2012