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Alcohol or Drug Use During Pregnancy - Topic Overview

During pregnancy, everything you eat, drink, or take into your body affects you and your growing baby (fetus). Pregnant women often need to make changes to have a healthy pregnancy, such as eating better or exercising. But one of the most important things you can do when you are pregnant is to avoid alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol and drugs can cause problems for you during your pregnancy and when it is time for your baby to be born. They can also affect your baby both before and after he or she is born. They can:

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  • Affect your baby's size.
  • Affect how your baby's heart, lungs, and brain work.
  • Cause lifelong learning, emotional, and physical problems for your child.

Using alcohol and drugs like cocaine or meth is not safe for you or your baby.

The best time to stop using alcohol and drugs is before you get pregnant. But sometimes pregnancy is unexpected. Since drugs and alcohol can harm your baby in the first weeks of pregnancy, the sooner you can stop, the better.

Even some over-the-counter and prescription medicines aren't safe to take when you're pregnant. Tell your doctor about all the drugs and supplements you take. He or she can help you decide what medicines are safe to take during pregnancy.

How do alcohol and drugs affect your pregnancy?

Substance

Possible effect on mother

Possible effect on fetus, newborn, and child

Alcohol

Cocaine

Ecstasy

  • Effects not known
  • Long-term memory problems
  • Learning problems

Heroin

  • Seizures
  • Addiction, withdrawal symptoms after birth
  • Breathing problems
  • Small size at birth
  • Physical and mental development problems

Inhalants

  • Life-threatening breathing problems
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Coma
  • Low birth weight
  • Problems with how bones form
  • Learning problems

Marijuana

Methamphetamine

  • Low birth weight
  • Heart and lung problems

PCP/LSD

  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Risk of overdose
  • Withdrawal symptoms after birth
  • Learning problems
  • Emotional problems
  • Behavior problems

What can you do to stop using alcohol or drugs?

You may already know that alcohol and drugs can harm you and your baby. But it can still be hard to stop. Changing your behaviors isn't easy. Some people need treatment to help them quit using drugs or alcohol. Here are some things you can do:

Take the first step. Admitting that you need help can be hard. You may feel ashamed or have doubts about whether you can quit. But your treatment can be successful only if you make the choice to stay sober. Remember that many people have struggled with these same feelings and have recovered from substance abuse. Quitting now will help you and your baby.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 23, 2012
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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