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Smoking And Drinking While Pregnant

Smoking And Drinking While Pregnant

Taking good care of yourself and your unborn baby is every mom-to-be’s first priority. Smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a lifetime of mental and physical health issues in your child, which is why if you’re pregnant, there’s never been a better time to quit.


In this article:

 drinking and smoking while pregnant


How Can Alcohol Affect My Baby?

Everything you put into your body passes through your bloodstream, into your umbilical cord, and directly to your baby; this means alcohol consumption during pregnancy is extremely dangerous to the health of your unborn child. Drinking alcohol while pregnant can lead to the unfortunate loss of your baby from miscarriage or stillbirth. Even after your baby is born, there are a lifetime of health problems that may lay ahead.


Health problems in a child caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASDs can present as behavioral, physical, and/or intellectual disabilities. These are the signs and symptoms you will want to watch for: 


Small Head Size –  Also known as microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition that is often accompanied by an underdeveloped brain. 


Below Normal Body Weight – Being underweight at birth makes it harder for your baby to fight off illness. This makes them vulnerable to infections and diseases, even as they get older.


Irregular Facial Features – Irregular facial features, including a smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose accompanied with a thin upper lip, as well as a flat midface are often a tell-tale sign of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.


Attention Disorders: Attention and hyperactivity disorders are common in children with FASDs; they are caused by the inability of the brain to process information accurately. 


Developmental Delays - Alcohol consumption during pregnancy may lead to language and speech delays.


Developmental Disabilities- Children with FASDs may suffer from learning disabilities, such as low IQ, lack of judgment, and reasoning skills, all of which are from stunted brain development.


Other Severe Conditions - Kidney disease, underdeveloped bones, and even heart problems are all serious health conditions linked to consuming alcohol during pregnancy.


How Can Smoking Affect My Unborn Baby?

When you smoke tobacco during pregnancy, your baby essentially does too. Lead, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and nicotine are all poisons you inhale when you smoke. These poisons travel to your placenta, which is the organ that provides your baby with nutrients and oxygen. Once these poisons reach the placenta, they make it difficult for vital nutrients and oxygen to be delivered to your baby. A lack of nutrients can result in your child developing several health issues throughout their lifetime. Smoking tobacco during pregnancy also increases the risk of premature labor and low birth weight. Consequently, both premature and underweight babies are at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (more commonly known as SIDS). 


Higher Risk for Obesity – A protein made by fat cells, called chemerin, is found more predominantly in babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy than those who did not smoke. The overproduction of this protein has been known to lead to obesity.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - This disorder makes it hard to concentrate and lowers impulse control. 


Weak Lungs - Because your baby received higher amounts of carbon monoxide and lower amounts of oxygen, it is likely that their lungs were unable to fully develop. Weakened lungs increase the risk of asthma, as well as pneumonia. 


Issues in Adulthood: Even when your baby is grown, the effects of smoking while pregnant can follow them into adulthood. These risks include a higher chance of developing type two diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.


I Smoked And Drank Before I Knew I Was Pregnant… Will My Baby Be Ok?

It is unlikely if you drank or smoked seldomly before you knew you were pregnant that you have caused serious harm to your unborn fetus. Of course, there isn't any safe time during pregnancy to smoke or drink, but it’s not uncommon for women to accidently do so in their first month of pregnancy since pregnancy symptoms don’t typically appear until about four weeks in the gestation period.


What’s important is stopping as soon as you know you’re expecting. To quit right away is the absolute best thing you can do for yourself and your child. The sooner you quit, the more opportunities you give your baby’s brain and lungs to develop normally. You should also let your doctor know if you were smoking or drinking because it will allow them to better monitor your baby for health issues, both during and after pregnancy. 


How To Quit Smoking And Drinking During Pregnancy

Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for you. You can’t fail if you never give up. 


First, try reaching out to someone you trust… someone you know will keep you accountable. If you don’t have someone in mind, find a support group of like-minded individuals who can relate to the similar obstacles you’re facing. You could also talk to a health professional who is experienced in helping those with tobacco or alcohol addiction. 


If you have exhausted every source of support, and are still having problems quitting smoking, your doctor may recommend nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine replacement therapy can include patches, mouth sprays, and gums. While nicotine replacement therapy is safer than continuing smoking during pregnancy, it still can come with side-effects and therefore should never be used as a first resort, or without the guidance of a medical professional.


Remember when you quit smoking or drinking alcohol, you are not only improving the health of your unborn baby, you are also improving your own health. The better your health is, the better you will be able to care for your baby. It may be an uphill battle, but one that is worth fighting. 


American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Maternal Smoking Before and During Pregnancy and the Risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, March 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alcohol Use in Pregnancy, March 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Reproductive Health, Tobacco Use and Pregnancy, September 2017.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG Committee Opinion Number 721, Smoking Cessation During Pregnancy, October 2017.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Tobacco. Alcohol, Drugs, and Pregnancy, August 2017.

National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Alcohol Use During Pregnancy: Prevalence and Impact, 2007.

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  • Sarah Marlow
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