Drugs and pregnancy

Many teens and young adults try alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. Some try these substances only a few times and stop. Others can't control their urges or cravings for them. This is substance abuse.

Substance abuse can lead to serious problems such as poor schoolwork, loss of friends, problems at home, and lasting legal problems. Alcohol and drug abuse is a leading cause of teen death or injury related to car crashes, suicides, violence, and drowning. Substance abuse can increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Even occasional alcohol use by a teen increases the risk for future alcohol and drug problems.

If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant and want a healthy baby, then it's very important to avoid drug use during pregnancy. Illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine aren't the only drugs that are harmful to fetal development; commonly used over-the-counter medicines, along with substances such as caffeine and alcohol can have lasting effects on an unborn child.

Your lifestyle habits before pregnancy are just as important as during the pregnancy. If you drink alcohol or use drugs, you may be putting your future baby at risk for several developmental problems, including mental retardation and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

The more alcohol you drink the more difficulty you may have getting pregnant. If you are planning a pregnancy, think about your alcohol intake – less is better, none is best!

If you are using illegal or street drugs, it can make you feel isolated. But you are not alone. Illegal drugs are more commonly used than you might realize.

About one in five young adults aged between 16 and 24 have used them in the past year for some drugs the evidence is clear. For others less so but we know enough to be sure that illegal drugs in pregnancy must always be considered unsafe, even in small amounts.

Using 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 before birth but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Smaller-than-normal head size (called reduced head circumference)
  • Heart defects
  • Birth defects: 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 and HIV. These viruses often affect people who share needles to inject drugs. Moms can pass these infections to their baby during pregnancy or at birth
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (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 gets addicted 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 drug harms your pregnancy. This is because women who use 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.

Where can I go for support and information?

If you are taking illegal drugs it is really important talk to your midwife or doctor. They need to know you are taking drugs, so that they can give you the right care and support during your pregnancy.