Smoking, Drugs, Alcohol and Other Don'ts of Pregnancy

Smoking, drugs and alcohol can seriously harm and even kill your unborn baby. Learn about the ways in which these substances can hurt your baby and what you can do.


All of these can harm your unborn baby.

The "Don'ts" are easier said than done. Yet, more and more women who are addicted to nicotine, alcohol and drugs give them up. Hearing it from their doctors and attending support groups has shown to help women quit, at least while they are pregnant. You cannot hear the message enough times, whether it's coming from your doctor or nurse midwife or from within a support group. But the strongest voice urging you to quit must come from you. Your natural instinct is to protect your child, even before it is born. So pregnancy itself can motivate women to kick bad habits.

DO NOT SMOKE. Smoking is risky and can lead to the following:

  • Death in utero or at birth (miscarriage, stillbirth).
  • Death during the first year of life (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Low birth weight leading to major health problems.
  • Problems throughout life: your child is more likely to develop asthma.

If you smoke, the best time to quit is before you get pregnant. It's also the time to be avoiding secondhand smoke. If you have trouble quitting on your own, you might want to get support from a partner or friend, or join a support group. There are many effective techniques for quitting.

If you are looking for support, try the American Cancer Society's hotline 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345) or The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking Online program.

DO NOT DRINK. If you drink, you put your baby at risk for miscarriage, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effects (FAE). Babies with FAS or FAE can have physical and mental problems. No one knows exactly how much alcohol a woman has to drink to cause FAS or FAE, so the safest thing to do if you're thinking about becoming pregnant is to stop drinking. If you have trouble stopping, you might want to talk to your doctor or find a support group. Or, you can talk to someone at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at 1-800-NCA-CALL (1-800-622-2255) or contact Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), local branches of which are listed in the white pages of your local phone book or on AA's Web site (

DON'T USE ILLEGAL DRUGS. Illegal drugs or "street" drugs are dangerous for you and your baby. If you use any illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin, speed and pot, you run the risk of having a baby with health problems at birth and later in life. You may be at increased risk of having a miscarriage or your baby being born prematurely. Your baby may be born addicted to the drug, and suffer from withdrawal after birth. In addition, if you use intravenous drugs, you may become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and pass it on to your baby.

If you need help giving up drugs, ask your doctor for help or check your phone book for an addiction treatment program in your area or for the local Narcotics Anonymous.

If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, call the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at 1-800-NCA-CALL (1-800-622-2255) or call DrugHelp, a private, non-profit information and referral network, at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-252-6465).


Don't take medications or drugs without your doctor's consent. Virtually any drug you take during pregnancy can affect your baby and should be approached with caution. Even drugs prescribed to you before you got pregnant can cause undesirable side effects for you and for your baby. For example, the acne drug Accutane® (isotretinoin) can cause serious birth defects if taken during pregnancy. There are occasions when the benefits of a drug to the mother outweigh the risks to the unborn child. However, unless your doctor tells you to take the drug, do not take it. Also, notify your doctor of any herbal supplements you take.

Avoid hazardous chemicals. Stay away from toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances at home and at work. Avoid exposure to cleansers, chemicals, such as insect repellent, and paint. If you can't eliminate your exposure completely, reduce your risk by wearing rubber gloves and by working in a well-ventilated area. If your water pipes are old, consider having your drinking water tested for lead. Your local health department can provide information about testing.

Don't eat raw or undercooked fish, shellfish, eggs, meat or poultry. Eating raw or undercooked meat, especially lamb or pork, or eating raw goat's milk, raw eggs, or unpasteurized cheese, can expose you to a toxoplasmosis infection. Toxoplasmosis can pose a serious risk to your unborn baby. Toxoplasmosis is caused by contact with a microscopic parasitic organism. Infection can cause lesions of the fetal central nervous system, which may lead to problems including blindness, brain defects and other serious conditions. Toxoplasmosis infection is most often picked up through exposure to eating raw or uncooked meat that is contaminated with the parasite or exposure to cat feces. So don't handle kitty litter while pregnant, either.



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