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
  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth

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 infections.

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 include: 
    • 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 offspring.  

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.

Most recent page update: 10/26/2012


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