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Primer: Use of Drugs and Alcohol During Pregnancy

Using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco can harm a woman at any time during her life. But they pose a double danger when she’s pregnant, jeopardizing her health and that of her unborn child.

Bad Timing

Drugs and alcohol are dangerous at any stage of pregnancy. They’re likely to affect the unborn child differently depending on what’s used, when, how much, and how often.

Many parts of a baby’s body begin to form in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Substance use at this point can lead to birth defects and miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, illegal drug use can interfere with the baby’s growth, cause premature delivery, and even kill the unborn child.

Understanding the health risks of taking any kind of drug during pregnancy may lead you to avoid using them and get help from a health care professional if you have trouble stopping on your own.

Alcohol

A pregnant woman should not drink any amount of alcohol during any stage of her pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The child could have learning and intellectual disabilities; facial abnormalities; vision and hearing problems; and problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones.

Tobacco

A woman who smokes while pregnant increases her risk of having a preterm birth or a low-birth-weight baby. She is also more likely to have a pregnancy outside the womb, which usually results in a miscarriage. Smoking after the baby is born increases the baby’s risk for asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.

Marijuana

Even though it is legal in some states, marijuana should not be used in any form during pregnancy. Women who use marijuana while pregnant have an increased risk of delivering a stillborn or low-birth-weight baby. Using marijuana during pregnancy is also associated with attention and behavioral problems in children.

Cocaine

Using cocaine during pregnancy increases the risk for placental abruption (separation of the placental lining from the uterus). In addition, cocaine use can sometimes lead to spontaneous miscarriage, preterm labor, and a difficult delivery. Babies who have been exposed to cocaine before they’re born also face an increased risk for genital, kidney, and brain defects.

Opioids

When taken under a health care professional’s supervision, prescription opioids can be safe for both mother and child. However, misusing opioids during pregnancy can increase the risk for fetal growth problems, preterm birth, stillbirth, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (when the baby goes through withdrawal upon birth).

Medications

Some prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements are not safe to take during pregnancy. Check with your health care provider before taking any of these substances when you’re pregnant.         

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