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Pregnancy and Substance Abuse

Summary

When you are pregnant, you are not just "eating for two." You also breathe and drink for two. If you smoke, use alcohol or take illegal drugs, so does your unborn baby.

To protect your baby, you should avoid

  • Tobacco. Smoking during pregnancy passes nicotine, carbon monoxide, and other harmful chemicals to your baby. This could cause many problems for your unborn baby's development. It raises the risk of your baby being born too small, too early, or with birth defects. Smoking can also affect babies after they are born. Your baby would be more likely to develop diseases such as asthma and obesity. There is also a higher risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Drinking alcohol. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe for a woman to drink during pregnancy. If you drink alcohol when you are pregnant, your child could be born with lifelong fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD). Children with FASD can have a mix of physical, behavioral, and learning problems.
  • Illegal drugs. Using illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines may cause underweight babies, birth defects, or withdrawal symptoms after birth.
  • Misusing prescription drugs. If you are taking prescription medicines, carefully follow your health care provider's instructions. It can be dangerous to take more medicines than you are supposed to, use them to get high, or take someone else's medicines. For example, misusing opioids can cause birth defects, withdrawal in the baby, or even loss of the baby.

If you are pregnant and you are doing any of these things, get help. Your healthcare provider can recommend programs to help you quit. You and your baby's health depend on it.

Dept. of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Start Here

  • From the National Institutes of Health Easy-to-Read (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) - PDF Also in
  • (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation) Also in
  • (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) - PDF Also in

Related Issues

  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in

Specifics

  • (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation) Also in
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in
  • (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in
  • (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation) Also in
  • (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in
  • (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation)

Health Check Tools

  • (American Cancer Society)

Statistics and Research

  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • From the National Institutes of Health Infographic (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
  • (American Lung Association)

Striking laughter

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

Find an Expert

  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • Also in
  • Also in
  • From the National Institutes of Health
  • From the National Institutes of Health Also in
  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

Teenagers

  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF

Men

  • (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in

Patient Handouts