During pregnancy, there are many things you can do to keep yourself and your baby healthy. They include getting regular prenatal care, eating healthy, and staying active. But it's also very important to avoid substances that could be harmful to you and your baby, such as tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
Smoking during pregnancy passes nicotine, carbon monoxide, and many other harmful chemicals to your baby. Nicotine is not only a health danger for you, but it can also damage your developing baby's brain and lungs. Carbon monoxide can keep the developing baby from getting enough oxygen.
If you smoke while pregnant, it raises the risk of your baby being born too small, too early, or with birth defects. During the first year of life, there is a higher risk of your baby dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). And later in life, your child may be more likely to have health problems, such as asthma and obesity.
Other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, also contain nicotine and are not safe to use during pregnancy. And some of the flavorings used in e-cigarettes may be harmful to developing babies.
You will also want to try to avoid secondhand smoke, which has some of the same risks as smoking during pregnancy.
There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe for you to drink during pregnancy and while trying to get pregnant. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. The risks from drinking during pregnancy include problems with the growth of the developing baby and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD is a life-long condition that can cause a mix of physical, behavioral, and learning problems.
Using illegal drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and club drugs, during pregnancy can cause problems for both you and your baby. They may cause low birth weight babies, birth defects, or miscarriage. Your child may be more likely to have learning and developmental disabilities. And if you are injecting the drugs, that puts you at risk for HIV. HIV can be passed along to your baby during pregnancy.
Prescription drug misuse
Misusing prescription drugs can also be harmful. Misuse can include taking more than your prescribed dose or taking it more often, using it to get high, or taking someone else's medicines. The possible effects of misusing a medicine during pregnancy will depend on which medicine you are misusing.
One type of drug that is a concern during pregnancy is opioids. Opioids include strong prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. Taking opioids during pregnancy can cause problems for you and your baby. The risks include birth defects, preterm birth, the loss of the baby, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS causes withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies.
If you have pain and your health care provider suggests that you take prescription opioids during pregnancy, first discuss the risks and benefits with the provider. Then if you both decide that you need to take the opioids, you can work together to try to minimize the risks.
Cannabis (marijuana)Cannabis (marijuana) is another drug that could be harmful to your baby. Some research shows that using cannabis during pregnancy is linked to developmental problems in children and teens. More research is needed, but the safest thing to do is stop using it if you are pregnant. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people should not use cannabis while they are pregnant.
Getting helpIf you are pregnant and using any of these substances, contact your provider. Together you and your provider can find the right treatment to help you quit.
If you are taking opioids or are addicted to drugs, don't stop taking them suddenly. That can be dangerous to you and the baby. Instead, contact your provider for help with getting off the drugs safely.
- Alcohol during Pregnancy (March of Dimes Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Alcohol Use during Pregnancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Cocaine and Pregnancy (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in Spanish
- Dextroamphetamine and Pregnancy (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in Spanish
- E-Cigarettes and Pregnancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Heroin and Pregnancy (March of Dimes Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Marijuana (Cannabis) and Pregnancy (Organization of Teratology Information Specialists) - PDF Also in Spanish
- Recreational Drugs and Pregnancy (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Smoking During Pregnancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Smoking during Pregnancy (March of Dimes Foundation)
- What You Should Know About Using Cannabis, Including CBD, When Pregnant or Breastfeeding (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
Statistics and Research
- PeriStats: Perinatal Statistics (March of Dimes Foundation)
- Polysubstance Use During Pregnancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- What Treatment Is Available for Pregnant Mothers and Their Babies? (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Women and Tobacco Use (American Lung Association)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Pregnancy and Substance Use (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Prevalence of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs consumption during teenage pregnancy:...
- Article: Health effects associated with exposure to intimate partner violence against women...
- Article: "They might take my baby away:" Black and Latina peoples' experiences...
- Pregnancy and Substance Use -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Also in Spanish
- Find an Ob-Gyn (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)
- FindTreatment.gov (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- March of Dimes Foundation Also in Spanish
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- National Institute on Drug Abuse Also in Spanish
- Characteristics of Pregnant Teen Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF