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Alcohol or Drug Use During Pregnancy

Drinking or using drugs during pregnancy increases the chance of miscarriage as well as the risk of having a baby with physical and emotional problems. These problems can range from mild problems to severe birth defects.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a combination of physical and mental birth defects caused by exposure to alcohol before birth. About 1 in every 1,000 babies is born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

A baby born with fetal alcohol syndrome may have:

  • Small size and low birth weight.
  • A small head size and defects of the head and face.
  • Defects of the joints, arms, or legs.
  • Poor muscle coordination.
  • Heart defects.
  • Intellectual disability.
  • Behavioral problems, such as being overactive or having poor attention span, as he or she grows up. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome continue to have behavioral and learning difficulties into adulthood.

Marijuana use can cause premature delivery, small size, and low birth weight. Cocaine and amphetamine use can cause spontaneous abortions, preterm labor, and low birth weight. A baby of a mother addicted to heroin, cocaine, or amphetamines may experience severe symptoms of drug withdrawal shortly after birth. Also, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection can be transmitted from shared needles used to inject drugs. HIV can then pass to the baby from the infected mother before birth.

Some of the damage caused by alcohol and drug use can occur very early in pregnancy. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, stop drinking or using drugs before trying to become pregnant. Exposure to drugs or alcohol is particularly damaging during the first 3 months (first trimester) of pregnancy. Some women do not even realize that they are pregnant during this time.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
Last Revised October 13, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 13, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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