Being pregnant while you are a regular user of drugs or alcohol affects your health and the health of your unborn baby. Telling your midwife or doctor about your drug or alcohol use is a personal choice; however we encourage you to do so, as it helps us provide you and your baby with the best pregnancy care.
Understanding what is safe for you and your baby is about getting accurate advice. This means knowing the effects of the drugs you are taking and seeking help to manage them and minimise harm to your baby. Attending the antenatal clinic regularly, following a healthy lifestyle and good dental care will also improve your health and help your baby grow strong and healthy.
Smoking is harmful for you and your baby. We know that smoking affects your health in the long-term by increasing your risk of lung cancer and other diseases. We also know that smoking can affect babies by:
- Causing miscarriage and stillbirth (babies dying inside the womb before birth)
- Increasing the risk of premature birth
- Preventing your baby from growing properly in the womb
- Increasing the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in newborns
- Increasing the risk of asthma in babies and young children
There are several different approaches to quitting smoking. Your doctor or midwife can provide advice and resources to help you quit and refer you for ongoing QUIT support if you wish.
Smoking harms both you and your unborn baby - the Quitline can help you stop smoking and give your baby the best start in life.
To learn more about quitting and the effects of smoking on reproductive health, pregnancy and babies see NSW Health Smoking and pregnancy
Drinking alcohol while you are pregnant can result in long-term harm to your baby. In particular, drinking heavily, or having binge drinking sessions, can cause your baby to develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) which leads to some, or all, of the following:
- babies not growing properly
- abnormalities in the child's facial appearance
- learning and memory difficulties
- problems with behaviour
- eyesight and hearing difficulties
- poor coordination
- heart and kidney defects
The chance of your baby being harmed is low if you drink only occasional small amounts of alcohol. However, the truth is that we don’t know what a safe amount of alcohol intake during pregnancy is. Therefore the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.
Many pregnancies are unplanned and often women find they have been drinking small amounts of alcohol before they knew they were pregnant. This is unlikely to have harmed your baby but you should stop drinking once you discover you are pregnant.
Some women find it hard to control their drinking. If you are having difficulty please speak with our staff immediately. We are happy to provide you with help and support, and refer you for help if you wish.
Alcohol passes into breast milk and therefore to the baby. Alcohol can affect your baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns. It takes at least one hour after a standard drink for the alcohol to leave your body completely. It is best to stop breastfeeding for this time period. Do not breast feed if you are feeling tipsy or drunk. If you are planning to have a drink it is best to express and store breast milk before having alcohol so you can feed your baby this expressed milk.
Many women worry that regular medications they are taking will affect their pregnancy. While some medicines may be a problem for pregnancy it is very important NOT to simply stop taking your regular medicines without discussing this first with your doctor. Abruptly stopping medications can make you very unwell which is dangerous for both you and your baby. We have expert staff who can advise you on what to do.
An emergency number for telephone advice concerning medications in pregnancy for all women in NSW can be found at Mothersafe.
Please note, although the Mothersafe service is based at Randwick, follow up of your query should be at Westmead hospital with your doctor or midwife.
Illicit drugs can be harmful for both you and your unborn baby. If you are a regular drug user we encourage you discuss this with your doctor or midwife. Simply stopping drugs can be dangerous for you and your baby. We can advise on with safe ways to stop using and refer you for help with quitting. If you use heroin we can help you change to methadone which is safer for you and your baby.
Some ways in which using drug in pregnancy can be harmful include:
- Increased chances of miscarriage, stillbirth (the baby dying in the womb) and increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
- Causing your baby to not grow properly
- Causing problems with the placenta (the afterbirth which feeds the baby during pregnancy)
- Causing birth defects
- Causing withdrawal symptoms after baby is born leading to babies being irritable, feeding poorly or having fits - this is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
- If you share syringes and catch Hepatitis or HIV these viruses can pass into the baby’s blood in the womb and infect your baby.
The NSW Health Your Room website provides information on many different street drugs and how they affect pregnancy.
Further resources can be accessed at:
Your newborn may experience symptoms of drug withdrawal if you have been using certain prescribed or non-prescribed drugs and/or alcohol. This is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS can cause irritability, poor feeding and sleeping, and even fits (convulsions).
The DUPS (Drug use in Pregnancy) team will talk with you about what you can expect for your baby after birth. Your baby will be monitored for signs of withdrawal and may require admission to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit’s nursery rooms for management of any withdrawal symptoms.
You will also be able to talk with the Neonatologist about the care for your baby.