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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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Smoking during pregnancy

Smoking is bad for you. It can cause serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, gum disease and eye diseases that can lead to blindness. Smoking also can make it harder for you to get pregnant

Smoking is bad for your baby, too. During pregnancy, the placenta grows in your uterus and supplies your baby with food and oxygen during pregnancy. When you smoke during pregnancy, you pass harmful chemicals through the placenta and umbilical cord into your baby's bloodstream. This can cause health problems for your baby. 

If you smoke and are pregnant, it’s not too late to quit. Quitting now can make a big difference in your baby’s life.  

 

How can smoking affect your pregnancy?

Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than nonsmokers to have:

  • An ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus (womb) and begins to grow. An ectopic pregnancy cannot result in the birth of a baby. It can cause serious, dangerous problems for the pregnant woman.
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Placental abruption. This is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth.
  • Placenta previa. This is when 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.
  • A stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb before birth, but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

How can smoking affect your baby?

When you smoke during pregnancy, your baby is exposed to dangerous chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar. These chemicals can lessen the amount of oxygen that your baby gets. Oxygen is really important for helping your baby grow healthy. Nicotine may have harmful effects on your baby’s heart, lungs and brain.

Babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than babies born to nonsmokers to:

  • Weigh less than he should throughout pregnancy
  • Have birth defects, like cleft lip or 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. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops or in how the body works. Cleft lip and palate are birth defects in a baby’s mouth.
  • Be born prematurely. This means your baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Have low birthweight. This means your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Babies born prematurely and with low birthweight are at risk of having serious health problems, including lifelong disabilities, like intellectual disabilities and learning problems, and in some cases, death.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is smoke you breathe in from someone else’s cigarette, cigar or pipe. Being exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with low birthweight. 

Secondhand smoke also is dangerous to your baby after birth. Compared to babies who aren't around secondhand smoke, babies exposed to secondhand smoke:

What is thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is what’s left behind from tobacco and tobacco smoke. It can include lead, arsenic and carbon monoxide. It’s what you smell on things like clothes, furniture, carpet, walls and hair that’s been in or around smoke. It’s why you often can tell that someone smokes by the smell of his clothes, home or car. Thirdhand smoke is why opening a window or smoking in another room isn’t enough to protect others smoking.

If you’re pregnant or a new mom, stay away from thirdhand smoke. Babies who breathe in thirdhand smoke may have serious health problems, like asthma and other breathing problems, learning disorders and cancer. 

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes) look like regular cigarettes. But instead of lighting them, they run on batteries. They create a mist that you inhale, and they contain nicotine that comes as a liquid. 

Just like regular cigarettes, you can become addicted to e-cigarettes. If you get too much liquid nicotine from them, it can cause nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting. Also, you can be poisoned by liquid nicotine if you drink it or absorb it through the skin. Liquid nicotine poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting and eye irritation. A small amount may be harmful, even deadly. 

Liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes is sold in small tubes that may be bright and colorful. They may have flavors, like cherry or bubble gum. All of these things may make them seem fun and appealing, especially to children. 

If you’re pregnant and using e-cigarettes or thinking about using e-cigarettes, talk to your provider.  

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

If you smoke, 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 your baby can be. But quitting is best for your pregnancy and your baby.  

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. 

Besides, when you quit smoking, you never again have to go outside and look for a place to smoke. You also have:

  • Cleaner teeth
  • Fresher breath
  • Fewer stain marks on your fingers
  • Fewer skin wrinkles
  • A better sense of smell and taste
  • More strength and ability to be more active

What are some tips to quit?

If you're trying to quit smoking, these tips may be helpful:

  • Write down your reasons for quitting. Look at the list when you are tempted to smoke.
  • Choose a quit day. On this day, throw away all your cigarettes or cigars, lighters and ashtrays.
  • Ask your partner or a friend to help you quit. Call that person when you feel like smoking. Stay away from places, activities or people that make you feel like smoking.
  • Keep yourself occupied. Go for a walk to help keep your mind off of smoking. Use a small stress ball or try some needlework to keep your hands busy. Snack on veggies or chew gym to keep something in your mouth. 
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Ask your health care provider about quitting aids, such as patches, gum, nasal spray and medicines. Don't start using these without your health care provider's OK, especially if you're pregnant.
  • Look for programs in your community or at your workplace to help you stop smoking. These are called smoking cessation programs. Ask your health care provider about programs in your area. Ask your employer to see what services are covered by health insurance. 

Don't feel badly if you don't quit right away. Keep trying! You’re doing what’s best for you and your baby. 

For more information

smokefree.gov (1-800-Quit-Now)
National Tobacco Cessation Collaborative 
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Last reviewed June 2014

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?