You gain so much when you learn you’re pregnant. The world opens up with all kinds of new possibilities as you get ready to welcome a brand new member to your family! So it seems like a small thing to temporarily give up some habits that aren’t all that healthy for you anyway. That might be why one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get when you become pregnant is that you should refrain from drinking and smoking during pregnancy.
That’s because smoking and drinking during pregnancy can both have significant and long term health consequences for your developing baby. When you abstain from even small amounts of alcohol and tobacco, you give your baby the best chance for a happy and healthy childhood!
The Dangers of Alcohol and Tobacco
Casual drinking at social events is incredibly common. Maybe you raise a glass of wine (or two) at celebrations. Perhaps you’ve been known to enjoy a beer with your friends after a long day of work. However, for all their social acceptance, alcohol and tobacco products can be quite harmful to your health.
And while they are often lumped together, alcohol and tobacco are two very different substances that produce vastly different effects on the body. Some of those impacts are immediate, while others become chronic.
One characteristic that alcohol and tobacco have in common, however, is that they are both detrimental for a fetus. Even small amounts of one or the other can lead to significant and lifelong consequences for the child.
The Dangers of Alcohol and Drinking During Pregnancy
Because alcohol is ingested, the substance has a fairly easy path to the fetus, in most cases arriving via the placenta. Because a fetus absorbs alcohol more slowly (and less ably) than an adult, even small amounts of liquor can produce lasting and severe consequences by interfering with oxygen and nutrition delivery. As a result, drinking during pregnancy can often cause a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can manifest in several ways, including the following:
- Cognitive and nervous system problems: For children growing up, cognitive and nervous system issues might include everything from attention disorders to poor judgment skills. In more severe cases, this may also manifest as intellectual disabilities and learning disorders.
- Behavior and social issues: These types of problems can include difficulty staying on task or controlling impulses. FAS-caused behavioral and social issues may also include trouble getting along with others or problems paying attention.
- Physical deformities: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can cause certain physical deformities, such as a small brain size or head size, vision problems, heart defects, and even slow growth after birth.
This list is not exhaustive, nor is it mutually exclusive. It’s possible for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to cause a wide variety of behavioral and physical problems to present simultaneously.
The Dangers of Smoking During Pregnancy
Smoking tobacco is not a healthy lifestyle choice. Cigarettes in particular (but not exclusively) contain a sordid array of chemicals that will do you harm to your body. And, of course, everything in a cigarette will find its way to your child as well, whether you’re pregnant or nursing. This can produce multiple issues in your baby. The dangers of smoking during pregnancy include:
- Fetal brain damage: Lack of oxygen in the bloodstream due to smoking cigarettes can cause significant brain damage during the development of the fetus.
- Fetal lung damage: Likewise, nicotine and other chemicals can cause damage to the fetal lungs during gestation. This can lead to long term breathing problems once your child is born.
- Cleft lip: Some research suggests a link between smoking while pregnant and children born with a cleft lip.
- Miscarriage: Research also suggests that smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products during pregnancy can increase your risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss.
By now, it’s common knowledge that smoking will diminish your overall health. Having a baby can be both physically and emotionally demanding. When your body’s ability to recover and recuperate is diminished, pregnancy and childbirth will become more taxing still, which could lead to unpredictable health issues for both expectant mothers and their children.
That’s why it’s recommended for your own health and for your infant’s health that you stop smoking as quickly as possible. You can talk to your doctor about medications and strategies that can help you leave your cigarette habit behind quickly as possible.
In terms of both smoking and alcohol use, it’s important to point out that quantity matters. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your child’s risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Likewise, the resulting health impacts will likely be more severe. The same is true of smoking cigarettes or using tobacco products.
The less you use alcohol or tobacco products while you’re pregnant, the better. That’s why the standing advice is for women to avoid both alcohol and cigarettes for the duration of their pregnancies. That said, most physicians will tell you that there is no amount of drinking or smoking during pregnancy considered “safe.”
What About Vaping or Cannabis?
Because vaping hasn’t been extensively studied yet, some people have a tendency to look at it as a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily born out in the data, and the risks around vaping–particularly while pregnant–aren’t especially well understood. That’s why most medical professionals will strongly caution against vaping while pregnant.
Not only do most vape cartridges contain nicotine, but there are various other propellants and chemicals involved in the process. We don’t know enough yet about how those added chemicals may impact a developing fetus. That’s why the general recommendations around vaping are the same as they are around cigarettes: do not engage in this activity while you are pregnant.
The same is true of cannabis use. Because it has NOT been proven safe, most OBGYNs and physicians will recommend that pregnant women abstain from using any Cannabis or CBD products.
When Should I Quit? And What if I Have Trouble?
Most research suggests that even small amounts of alcohol and tobacco products at any point during your pregnancy can cause harm or increase risks. In theory, damage may occur before you even know you’re pregnant, which is why some experts call for sexually active women to abstain from alcohol or tobacco use.
That isn’t realistic for everyone. As a result, most women will follow this relatively simple guidance: stop smoking or drinking as soon as you think you might be pregnant.
Dependence issues involving both alcohol and nicotine can make quitting difficult. In general, it’s recommended that women undergo treatment for any dependence before becoming pregnant. That’s not always possible, of course. If you should find yourself both pregnant and, for example, dependent upon alcohol, your OBGYN may be able to offer helpful solutions that keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.
Get the Help You Need to Stay Healthy
Alcohol and cigarette use represent known risks. Research has conclusively proven that the chances of negative outcomes for your baby increase when cigarettes and alcohol are consumed by the expectant mother.
That’s why abstaining from drinking and smoking during your pregnancy is so important. You can help give your baby the best chance at a healthy, happy life! And if you have trouble, there are ways that your OBGYN can offer help, letting you kick those bad habits for good!