Drinking, Smoking & Using Drugs When Pregnant

Content courtesy of marchofdimes.org

 

 ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY

KEY POINTS

  • Don’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • Alcohol can cause problems for your baby at any time in pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant.
  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy makes your baby more likely to have premature birth, birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  • How does drinking alcohol during pregnancy affect your baby’s health?

Drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for your baby. Alcohol includes wine, wine coolers, beer and liquor.

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and the umbilical cord to your baby. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Drinking any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy can harm your baby’s developing brain and other organs. No amount of alcohol has been proven safe at any time during pregnancy.

There’s no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for your baby any time during pregnancy, even before you know that you’re pregnant. You may be pregnant and not know for 4 to 6 weeks.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases your baby’s chances of having these problems:

  • Premature birth. This is when your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies may have serious health problems at birth and later in life.
  • Brain damage and problems with growth and development
  • Birth defects, like heart defects, hearing problems or vision problems. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). Children with FASDs may have a range of problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. These are problems with how the brain works that can cause a person to have trouble in learning, communicating, taking care of himself or getting along with others. They also may have problems or delays in physical development. FASDs usually last a lifetime. Binge drinking during pregnancy increases your chances of having a baby with FASDs. Binge drinking is when you drink four or more drinks in 2 to 3 hours.
  • Low birthweight (also called LBW). This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

How can you keep your baby safe from alcohol during pregnancy?

If you don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy, your baby can’t have FASDs or any other health problems caused by alcohol. If you’re pregnant or even thinking about getting pregnant, don’t drink alcohol.

Some women may drink alcohol during pregnancy and have babies who seem healthy. Some women may have very little alcohol during pregnancy and have babies with serious health conditions. Every pregnancy is different. Alcohol may hurt one baby more than another. The best way to keep your baby safe from problems caused by alcohol during pregnancy is not to drink alcohol when you’re pregnant.

If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, don’t drink alcohol. When you do get pregnant, get regular prenatal care (medical care you get during pregnancy). Tell your health care provider if you need help to stop drinking alcohol.

How can you stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy?

You may want to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol is often part of social activities, like parties or sports events. You may be used to having a glass of wine with dinner or at the end of a busy day. Giving up alcohol during pregnancy may be hard.

Here are some tips to help you stop drinking alcohol:

  • Think about when you usually drink alcohol. Plan to drink other things, like fruity drinks or water. Use a fun straw or put an umbrella in the glass to make it seem more fun.
  • Stay away from situations or places where you usually drink, like parties or bars.
  • Get rid of all the alcohol in your home.
  • Tell your partner and your friends and family that you’re not drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Ask them to help and support you.

If you need help to stop drinking, here’s what you can do:

  • Talk to your health care provider about alcohol treatment programs.
  • Join an Alcoholics Anonymous support group.
  • Use Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (also called SAMHSA) website or call 1-800 662-4357.

Can your partner’s drinking affect your baby during pregnancy?

FASDs and other alcohol-related health conditions happen when you drink during pregnancy. Research is still being done to find out if alcohol harms a man’s sperm before a woman gets pregnant.

More information

The Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA)

SMOKING DURING PREGNANCY

KEY POINTS

  • Smoking is addictive and harmful to your health. Quitting smoking can help reduce your risk for cancer and other diseases.
  • Smoking during pregnancy can cause problems for your baby, like premature birth and birth defects. It also increases your baby’s risk for SIDS.
  • If you’re pregnant, don’t smoke and stay away from secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
  • If you need help to quit, tell your health care provider. Make a quit plan to keep you on track to help you get and stay smoke-free.
  • The sooner you quit smoking during pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby can be.

How is smoking harmful to your body?

Cigarettes and cigars are made from tobacco leaves. Tobacco contains a drug called nicotine. Nicotine is what makes you become addicted to smoking. Addiction is a brain condition that makes you smoke, even if you don’t want to. Addiction affects your self-control and your ability to stop smoking.

Smoke from tobacco contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of these are harmful to smokers and nonsmokers. At least 69 of them can cause cancer. Breathing even a little tobacco smoke can be harmful.

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. It can cause serious health conditions, including:

  • Addiction
  • Cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, kidneys and other organs. It also causes cancer of the blood (also called leukemia).
  • Heart disease and lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke. This is when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel that brings blood to the brain, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts open.
  • Gum disease
  • Eye problems that can lead to blindness

How can smoking harm your pregnancy?

Smoking during pregnancy is bad for you and your baby. Quitting smoking, even if you’re already pregnant, can make a big difference in your baby’s life.

If you smoke during pregnancy, you’re more likely than nonsmokers to have:

  • Preterm labor. This is labor than starts too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor can lead to premature birth. Babies born prematurely are more likely to have health problems at birth and later in life than babies born on time.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus (womb) and begins to grow. An ectopic pregnancy always ends in pregnancy loss. It can cause serious, dangerous problems for a pregnant woman. Most of the time, ectopic pregnancies are removed by surgery.
  • Bleeding from the vagina
  • Problems with the placenta, like placental abruption and placenta previa. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placental abruption is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth. Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta lies very low in the uterus and covers all or part of the cervix. The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina.
  • If you smoke and are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, tell your provider. Your provider can help you quit.

How can smoking affect your baby?

When you smoke during pregnancy, chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar pass through the placenta and umbilical cord to your baby.

These chemicals are harmful to your baby. They can lessen the amount of oxygen that your baby gets. This can slow your baby’s growth before birth and can damage your baby’s lungs and brain.

If you smoke during pregnancy, your baby is more likely to:

  • Be born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Have birth defects, including birth defects in a baby’s mouth called cleft lip or cleft palate. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. Birth defects can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or how the body works.
  • Have low birthweight. This means your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Die before birth from miscarriage or stillbirth. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Die of sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old. SIDS usually happens when a baby is sleeping. It’s sometimes called crib death because the baby often dies in his crib.
  • If you smoke and are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, tell your provider. Your provider can help you quit.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is smoke you breathe in from someone else’s cigarette, cigar, pipe or other tobacco product. Secondhand smoke is dangerous for you and your baby. Being around secondhand smoke during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born with low birthweight or birth defects.

Secondhand smoke also is dangerous to your baby after birth. Babies exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely than babies who aren’t to die of SIDS. They’re also at risk for health problems like:

  • Asthma. This is a health condition that affects the body’s airways and can cause breathing problems.
  • Bronchitis. This is inflammation (irritation, like redness and swelling) in the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from your baby’s lungs. It can cause coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia. This is an infection in the lungs.

What is thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is what’s left behind when someone smokes. It’s what you smell on things like clothes, furniture, carpet, walls, skin and hair that’s been in or around smoke. Thirdhand smoke sticks to these things, builds up over time and is hard to remove. Thirdhand smoke is why opening a window or smoking in another room isn’t enough to protect others when you smoke.

Thirdhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals and is harmful to pregnant women, babies and children. Babies and children can be exposed to these chemicals when they breathe in thirdhand smoke or when they touch or put things in their mouth that have been exposed to thirdhand smoke. Researchers are working to find out if thirdhand smoke causes cancer and other serious health problems.

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes) contain liquid that usually includes nicotine, flavors (like strawberry, cinnamon or bubble gum) and other chemicals. Some look like regular cigarettes. Some look like pens, computer memory sticks or asthma inhalers. Instead of lighting e-cigarettes, they run on batteries. Other names for e-cigarettes are e-cigs, e-hookahs, hookah pens, vapes, vape pens, tank systems and mods.

When you use an e-cigarette, you puff on a mouthpiece to heat up the liquid. This creates a mist (also called vapor) that you inhale. Using an e-cigarette is called vaping or Juuling (JUUL is the name of one kind of e-cigarette). Just like with regular cigarettes, you can become addicted to e-cigarettes that contain nicotine.

The different flavors of e-cigarettes may make them seem fun and appealing, especially to children. If you drink or touch the liquid in e-cigarettes, it can cause nicotine poisoning. Nicotine poisoning can be deadly. Signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning include:

  • A fast or slow heartbeat
  • Belly cramps
  • Breathing problems
  • Headache
  • Vomiting

If you think you have nicotine poisoning, call emergency services (911) or Poison Control (800-222-1222) right away.

Is it safe to use e-cigarettes during pregnancy?

No. E-cigarettes contain chemicals, like nicotine, that can harm you and your baby. Flavors and other chemicals in e-cigarettes may be harmful to you and your baby. Breathing in someone else’s e-cigarette vapor also may be harmful. More research is needed to better understand how e-cigarettes affect women and babies during pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant and using e-cigarettes, talk to your health care provider about quitting.

Can you just cut down on smoking? Or do you have to quit?

You may think that light or mild cigarettes are safer choices during pregnancy. This is not true. Or you may want to cut down rather than quit smoking altogether. It’s true that the less you smoke, the better for your baby. But quitting is best.

The sooner you quit smoking during pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby can be. It’s best to quit smoking before getting pregnant. But quitting any time during pregnancy can have a positive effect on your baby’s life.

On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of cancer and other diseases, like heart disease. When you quit smoking, you never have to go outside and look for a place to smoke. And quitting smoking can help you have:

  • Cleaner teeth, fresher breath and a better sense of taste
  • Fewer stains on your fingers
  • Fewer skin wrinkles
  • Better vision
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • More energy to be more active
  • If you need help to quit smoking, tell your health care provider.

What are some tips to help you quit smoking?

Making a quit plan is a great way to help you quit smoking. A quit plan is a personalized plan that can help you get ready to quit. It also can help increase your chances of quitting and staying smoke-free. Visit smokefree.gov/build-your-quit-plan to get your plan started. Or write your plan on paper. Here are some things to include:

  • A quit day. On this day, throw away all your cigarettes or cigars, lighters and ashtrays. Choose a day within the next 2 weeks so you have time to get ready. Put the quit day in your calendar.
  • Your reasons for quitting. Look at the list when you think about smoking.
  • Triggers that make you want to smoke. Triggers can be emotional, like wanting to smoke when you feel stressed or lonely.
  • They can be activities that make you want to smoke, like talking on the phone or finishing a meal. Or they can be social events, like going to a party or bar. Knowing what your triggers are can help you learn ways to manage them so you don’t need to smoke.
  • Ways to deal with cravings. For example, what can you do instead of smoking when you have a craving to smoke. For example, go for a walk to help keep your mind off smoking. Use a small stress ball or try some needlework to keep your hands busy.
  • Snack on veggies or chew gum to keep something in your mouth.
  • Get rid of smoking reminders, like matches and ashtrays. Wash your clothes and clean your car.

Tools to help you quit:

  • Ask your health care provider about things to help you quit, like patches, gum, nasal spray and medicines. Don’t start using these without your health care provider’s OK, especially if you’re pregnant.
  • Use apps and quitlines. Smokefree.gov has a free text message program for pregnant women who are trying to quit. It also has a free app you can download to keep you on track.
  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for advice from a quit smoking counselor.
  • Look for programs in your community or where you work that can help you stop smoking. These are called smoking cessation programs.
  • Ask your provider about programs in your area.
  • Ask your employer to see what services are covered by health insurance.
  • Telling your family, friends and loved ones about your plan to quit smoking. They can help support you.

Other things to do to help you quit:

  • Drink lots of water. Drink water or tea instead of coffee or alcohol.
  • Try to manage your stress. Stress can be a trigger for smoking. Try things to relieve stress, like meditation, deep breathing, exercising or listening to your favorite music.
  • Reward yourself for your progress. Celebrate milestones, like 1 day, 1 week and 1 month of being smoke-free.
  • If you have trouble quitting, keep trying! You’re doing what’s best for you and your baby.

More information

The Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department

smokefree.gov (1-800-Quit-Now)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC tips for quitting smoking
Amanda’s story: Smoking during pregnancy and premature birth

STREET DRUGS DURING PREGNANCY

A street drug (also called illegal or illicit drug) is a drug that is against the law to have or use.

Street drugs are bad for you, and they’re bad for your baby. About 1 in 20 women (5 percent) take street drugs during pregnancy.

Street drugs include:

  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy, methamphetamine and other club drugs
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription drugs that are abused

How can street drugs harm your pregnancy?

Using street drugs can cause problems for you before and during pregnancy, including:

  • Not being able to get pregnant. This is called infertility.
  • Problems with the placenta. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.
  • Preterm labor. This is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Babies born to moms who use street drugs during pregnancy can have these complications:

  • Premature birth. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
  • Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Smaller-than-normal head size (called reduced head circumference)
  • Heart defects
  • Birth defects. These are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Infections, including hepatitis C, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and Zika. These viruses often affect people who share needles when they use street drugs. Moms can pass these infections to their baby during pregnancy or at birth. If you get infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy, it can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other brain problems.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (also called NAS). This is a group of health conditions that a baby can have if his mother uses addictive drugs during pregnancy. NAS can happen when a baby is exposed to a drug before birth and then goes through drug withdrawal after birth.

Babies born to moms who use drugs often have problems later in life, including:

  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Slower-than-normal growth
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). This is the unexplained death of a child while sleeping.
  • It’s hard to know exactly how each street drug harms your pregnancy. This is because women who use street drugs may use more than one drug and may have other unhealthy behaviors, too. For example, they may smoke or drink alcohol. They may not eat healthy meals. They may be more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease. All of these can cause problems during pregnancy.

How can you keep your baby safe from street drugs?

The best way to keep your baby safe from street drugs is to avoid them! Don’t use street drugs. Talk to your health care provider. He can help you get treatment to help you quit.

If you used heroin or the prescription drugs called opioids, don’t stop taking them without getting treatment from your health care provider first. Quitting suddenly (called cold turkey) can cause severe problems for your baby, including death. Your health care provider or a drug treatment center can treat you with drugs like methadone or buprenorphine. These drugs can help you gradually reduce your dependence on opioids and heroin in a way that’s safe for you and your baby.

How can you get help to quit using street drugs?

Talk to your health care provider about treatment to help you quit.

The Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department