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Smoking, alcohol and drugs

  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs during pregnancy.
  • These can cause lifelong health problems for your baby.
  • If you need help to quit, tell your health care provider.
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Street drugs and 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:

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 before birth but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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

  • Premature birth. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 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 and HIV. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. These viruses often affect people who share needles to inject street drugs. Moms can pass these infections to their baby during pregnancy or at birth.
  • 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 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 baby younger than 1 year old.

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. He can help you get treatment to quit. Or contact: 

Last reviewed November 2013

Things to avoid

  • Alcohol, in any quantity
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Herbs or supplements not OK with your doctor
  • Medicines obtained without prescription
Talk with your doctor about all the medicines you take.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I keep taking all my prescriptions during pregnancy?

It depends on the drug. Tell your prenatal care provider about any prescription drugs you take. Some drugs may be harmful to a growing baby. You may need to stop taking a drug or switch to a drug that's safer for your baby. Don't take anyone else's prescription drugs. And don't take any prescription drug unless your prenatal care provider knows about it.

I drank before I knew I was pregnant. Is my baby hurt?

It's unlikely that an occasional drink before you realized you were pregnant will harm your baby. But the baby's brain and other organs begin developing around the third week of pregnancy, so they could be affected by alcohol in these early weeks. The patterns of drinking that place a baby at greatest risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are binge drinking and drinking seven or more drinks per week. However, FASDs can and do occur in babies of women who drink less. Because no amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, a woman should stop drinking immediately if she even suspects she could be pregnant. And she should not drink alcohol if she is trying to become pregnant.

Is it OK to drink wine in my third trimester?

No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. To ensure your baby's health and safety, don't drink alcohol while you're pregnant. Alcohol includes beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor. If you need help to stop drinking alcohol, tell your health care provider.

Have questions?