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Are you harming your unborn baby?

Many people associate the term ‘drug addict’ with someone who is dependent on illegal substances such as Heroin, Marijuana or Cocaine; however an article sent to us by the Drug Rehab Patient Advocacy Group surprised us with facts concerning recreational ‘drugs’ which many pregnant woman may be taking unaware of the effects they could have on their unborn baby.
unborn baby inside the womb
Drugs taken during pregnancy pass easily through the placenta potentially harming the unborn baby

The placenta is a temporary organ linking the mother and fetus bringing nutrients and oxygen to the unborn baby and removing harmful waste and materials. It performs the same duties as many internal organs not yet formed such as the lungs, liver and kidneys – and while food and nutrition pass easily through the placenta – so do harmful substances, which can result in lifelong issues for the mother and child.


Woman holding a cup of coffee
Photo by quan le on Unsplash

The statistics in this study were looking at the American population – however, it doesn’t really matter where you live in the world; women get pregnant and lots of them love a cup of coffee! Apparently more than half of all Americans drink coffee daily, whilst around two billion people worldwide consume at least one cup of tea every day.

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) points out that whilst caffeine can raise the heart rate and blood pressure (neither of which are good for pregnant women), it is also a diuretic which can lead to dehydration. According to APA, caffeine can also harm the fetus by disrupting their normal movement patterns and keeping them awake.

There is conflicting and inconclusive research as to whether caffeine causes birth defects or increase the risk of miscarriage, but the APA suggests that pregnant women should restrict their caffeine intake to less than 300 mg a day. One average cup of coffee contains around 95mg of caffeine – but this can increase significantly depending on the size and strength of the coffee (for example, an extra-large coffee from Dunkin Donuts contains 517 mg). It is also important to remember that some soft drinks, chocolate, over-the-counter headache tablets can also contain caffeine.

Woman drinking wine
Photo by quan le on Unsplash


Regular alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to the unborn baby developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), partial FAS, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, or alcohol-related birth defects. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that the risk of the baby being affected by these conditions increases if the expecting mother engages in binge drinking – this is defined as consuming more than three drinks in one episode; and the frequency in which a pregnant woman drinks is a factor too. This is especially critical in the first trimester when the baby’s vital organs are developing.

The affects of FAS may not always be immediately apparent after birth, but children suffering from the condition often have trouble emotionally, as well as difficulties related to understanding, attention, memory and communicating. These can affect them academically and later create problems associated with working and holding down a job.

The NIAAA emphasises that ‘there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy’. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women abstain from drinking alcohol completely.


woman smoking
Photo by Riccardo Fissore on Unsplash

Most of us are already aware of the fact that smoking is bad for our health, but for those already addicted to nicotine, giving up when finding out you are pregnant can be really tough. In fact, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that roughly 16 percent of all pregnant women have smoked at some point during their pregnancy. However, evidence of the adverse effect that nicotine can have on your unborn baby should be an incentive to get help quitting preferably before, but as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.

Did you know that the nicotine level in the blood of an unborn baby can be as much as 15 percent higher than in the mother! Nicotine, which is only one of many harmful chemicals contained in a cigarette, narrows the blood vessels allowing less oxygen and fewer nutrients to reach the baby. This can cause permanent damage to the brain and lungs. Smoking also increase the risk of birth defects such as cleft lip or palate, premature birth, miscarriage and low birth weight. According to NIDA, stillbirth risk also increases by 1.8 to 2.8 times when a woman smokes during pregnancy and is believed to contribute to more than 1,000 infant deaths in the US annually.

Family and friends around the pregnant woman should also be aware of the effect of passive smoking – as it can increase the expectant mother’s risk of having a stillbirth by 2.1 times. It can also result in premature birth or low birth rate – as well as increased risk of asthma, respiratory issues and ear infections after the baby is born.

What about vaping?

Some expectant mums turn to vaping in an attempt to quit smoking, but the NIDA warns that if the vape contains nicotine, the effect will be similar. There may also be issues with the propellant and flavouring used in electronic cigarettes, so with this in mind, it is recommended that women abstain from smoking and vaping completely during pregnancy.

The full report which includes the effects of taking prescription pain killers and illegal drugs can be read HERE.

If you live in the UK and suffer from drug addiction – whether pregnant or not – you can find help HERE.

Written by Christine Scippo (

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