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Affects of Drugs and Alchohol on Unborn Children Please feel free to contact me, Dr Vince Berger, at Adoption Services if you have any questions or if we can help you in any way Affects of Drugs and Alchohol on Unborn Children

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol
on Unborn Children

Any drug, legal or illegal, that you consume can impact on your unborn child. If you swallow a drug, your body will deliver it to the baby through the placenta. If you inject a substance, it goes to the baby in larger amounts. Inhaling a drug has almost the same results.

Pregnancy, Medications, and Illegal Drugs: Introduction

Many over-the-counter medications and many drugs your health care provider prescribes are thought to be safe to take during pregnancy. However, some drugs are not safe to take during pregnancy. Even drugs prescribed to you by your health care provider before you became pregnant might be harmful to both you and your baby during pregnancy.

Make sure your health care provider knows you are pregnant and check with your health care provider before you take any medications.  Also, keep in mind that other things like caffeine, vitamins, and herbal teas and remedies can affect your baby.

Street drugs can be especially harmful to you and your unborn child and should always be avoided. Some drugs could be fatal to both you and your unborn child. They can also cause malnutrition, birth defects, withdrawal symptoms, and seizures in your child. If you have taken an illegal drug or some other substance you think may affect you and/or your baby, do not panic.  Stop taking the drug immediately and contact your doctor, local health care provider, or local hospital.

Medications and Pregnancy

Whether or not you should continue taking prescribed medicine during pregnancy is a serious concern. If you keep taking the medication, it could harm your baby.  At the same time, with some medications, if you stop taking the medicine that you need, this could harm you and thus affect the baby.  That is why you should read on and should talk to your health care provider before you stop taking prescribed medications.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration rates both over-the-counter drugs as well as medications your health care provider may prescribe. The FDA system ranks drugs as follows:

  • Category A - these are medications and drugs that have been tested for safety during pregnancy and have been found to be safe.
  • Category B - includes drugs that have been used during pregnancy and do not appear to cause major birth defects or other problems.
  • Category C - these drugs are more likely to cause problems for the pregnant woman or her baby.  The category also includes drugs for which safety studies have not been finished. These drugs often come with a warning that they should be used only if the benefits of taking them outweigh the risks.
  • Category D - are drugs that have clear health risks for the fetus and include alcohol and lithium.
  • Category X - drugs that have been shown to cause birth defects and should never be taken during pregnancy. This includes drugs to treat skin conditions like cystic acne and psoriasis.
  • Aspirin and other drugs containing salicylate are not recommended during pregnancy, especially during the last three months.

For additional information on over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs as they relate to pregnancy, please visit Medications and Pregnancy.  You may also find the following websites helpful:

Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction , part of the National Institutes of Health, provides the latest information about potentially hazardous effects of chemicals.

March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

Centers for Disease Control provides information about use of medications during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

National Women's Health Information Center information and referral center for women helps a pregnant woman learn what she can to do to promote a healthy pregnancy.

Physicians' Desk Reference is written in lay terms and is based on the FDA-approved drug information. It gives consumers explanations for the safe and effective use of prescription and non-prescription drugs.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

National Institutes of Health provides prescription and over-the-counter medication information as well as information on herbs and supplements.

Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol Related Problems

If you are pregnant and you drink beer, wine, hard liquor, or other alcoholic beverages, the alcohol not only gets into your blood but it also goes to your baby through the placenta.  In the baby's immature body, alcohol is broken down much more slowly than in your body. While the alcohol may affect you only temporarily, it can slow down your baby's growth, cause facial and other physical defects, affect the baby's brain and the baby's general development and cause life-long birth defects.

Women who drink alcohol while pregnant are more likely to have a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a low birth weight baby, or a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).  The effects of FAS last a lifetime. FAS cannot be reversed but it can be prevented by not drinking alcohol when you are pregnant. 

While many women are able to drink and their children are born perfectly healthy, you will be gambling with the life of her child if you do drink alcohol. Although many women are aware that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects, many do not realize that moderate, or even light drinking also may harm the baby. Because a safe level of alcohol intake during pregnancy cannot be determined, the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control both recommend that if you are pregnant you should not consume any alcohol including beer, wine, wine coolers and hard liquor throughout your pregnancy and while nursing.

If you have been drinking up until now, do not panic but stop drinking immediately and make sure to let your health care provider know you have been consuming alcohol. For additional information about alcohol use during your pregnancy, please visit Pregnancy and Alcohol on the website PregnancyAndChildren.com

For additional information about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, please visit the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  If you are not able to stop drinking, you should should contact her doctor, local Alcohol Anonymous or local alcohol treatment program.  The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility locator can also help you find a alcohol treatment programs in your area.

Illegal Drugs During Pregnancy

Research has consistently shown that if a woman takes an illegal drug during pregnancy there is a much greater risk of miscarriage, low birth-weight, birth defects, premature labor, new-born withdrawal symptoms, learning or behavioral problems, and even fetal death. The most common illicit drugs include marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, PCP, LSD, amphetamines, and heroin.


If you consume cocaine, the drug enters your baby's body through the umbilical cord and remains in the baby's body much longer than it does in your body. Cocaine use during pregnancy can affect the unborn baby in many ways including increasing the risk of miscarriage, it can trigger early labor, and can result in a baby being born with low birth weight.  There is evidence that cocaine-exposed babies have a greater chance of dying of sudden infant death syndrome, have learning difficulties, and they can have defects of the genitals, kidneys, and brain.


Heroin is transmitted to the baby through the umbilical cord.  Using heroin during pregnancy increases the chance of premature birth, low birth weight, breathing difficulties, bleeding within the brain and infant death. Babies can also be born addicted to heroin and can suffer from heroin withdrawal symptoms.


Both PCP and LSD users can have violent behavior, which may cause harm to the baby if the mother hurts herself.  PCP use during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight, poor muscle control, brain damage, and withdrawal syndromes in the baby.  LSD can cause genetic problems in the baby.

Methamphetamine use during pregnancy

Methamphetamine is chemically related to amphetamine, which causes the heart rate of the mother and baby to increase.  Taking methamphetamine during pregnancy can result in problems similar to those seen with the use of cocaine in pregnancy.

Smoking (Marijuana and Cigarettes)

Smoking is bad for both you and your baby. When you smoke you inhale nicotine and carbon monoxide and these substances can keep your baby from getting the proper supply of nutrients and oxygen.  This means your baby may grow more slowly and gain less weight in utero. Smoking during pregnancy has also been linked to preterm labor, miscarriages, still births, low-birth weight, and premature birth.  Additionally, smoking by the mother during and after pregnancy has been linked in children to asthma, learning difficulties, behavioral problems, colds, lung problems, and ear infections.

Marijuana, like cigarette smoke, contains toxins that keep your baby from getting the proper supply of oxygen that he or she needs to grow.  Regular ese of marijuana during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature births, developmental delays, and behavioral and learning problems.

If you are pregnant, you should not smoke and should not even be around others while they are smoking.  Smoking and pregnancy is also discussed in the American Lung Association article.

Other Drugs

Keep in mind that other things like caffeine, vitamins, and herbal teas and remedies can affect your unborn child.  For additional information please visit the links Nutritional Health as well as Pregnancy Risks and Pregnancy and Smoking.

The Dangers of Tobacco Use

Additional Resources

Please visit the link "Ways we can help you".

For additional information about your pregnancy and about alcohol, caffeine, and smoking, as well as medications, and drugs please visit the website Pregnancy And Children.

This National Institute of Health website also provides good information on drug usage during pregnancy.

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