Smoking, drinking and drugs can be harmful when you’re pregnant. Here’s some helpful advice on how to quit and have a healthy pregnancy.

Shot of a group of friends making a toast over dinner

A common misconception around pregnancy is that, as soon as you find out you’re expecting, you instantly transform into an earth mother figure and immediately live a virtuous life of health.
Whilst a glass of wine or a puff on a cigarette is part and parcel of many women’s social lives, it’s important to kick these habits as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant. We’ve got helpful advice to help you give up your vices.

When should I quit?

Ideally it’s best to make sure you’re living a healthy lifestyle before you conceive but this isn’t always possible. In some cases you might not even know you are pregnant and continue to enjoy you social life and everything that comes with it.

If this is the case, don’t panic. Curbing bad habits early on in pregnancy can reduce the risk to your child. If you’re feeling worried, talk to your doctor who will be able to advise you on how to proceed and put your mind at rest.

How alcohol affects your baby

Despite all the conflicting advice out there, there is no ‘safe’ amount of alcohol whilst you’re pregnant. Studies have found that even occasional drinking can be harmful and could hinder your unborn baby’s development or cause learning difficulties, facial abnormalities or growth problems after your baby is born.

How smoking affects your baby

We all know smoking isn’t good for us but it’s doubly important to step away from the cigarettes when you’re pregnant. Smoking can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth and can also affect your baby’s ability to breathe and grow properly after the birth.

Quitting before or during the first three months of pregnancy reduces the risk of complications during birth and increases the chances of a healthy birth weight. When you quit smoking you and your baby benefit immediately, so the sooner the better.

If you and your partner both smoke, this is the time to quit together. Passive smoking can be just as harmful to your baby and studies have also shown that babies whose fathers smoked over 20 cigarettes a day at the time of conception are more susceptible to childhood leukaemia. Supporting each other means you’re twice as likely to succeed.

If you’re struggling to quit, speak to your doctor. They will be able to give advice and, in some cases, medication that can help you stay smoke free throughout your pregnancy and beyond.

How drugs can affect your baby

It goes without saying that taking recreational drugs whilst pregnant is not a good idea. Most drugs travel directly to the bloodstream, which means it hits your baby’s bloodstream too. With effects ranging from miscarriage, birth defects and pre-eclampsia to brain damage and an increase in the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome amongst many other risks the decision to use drugs during your pregnancy can be devastating.

It might be tempting to try and hide your drug use however the best thing you can do, if you’re struggling to abstain, is speak to your doctor about what drugs you are taking and how you can stop. Your doctor can work with you to support you and help you safely handle any withdrawal symptoms you might experience.

But what if you’re taking legal medication or herbal remedies? Even common painkillers or natural remedies could harm your baby’s health so checking in with your doctor or midwife as early as possible will ensure that you don’t accidentally put your baby in harm’s way. If you’re unsure of what you’re allowed to take check with your doctor or pharmacist.

After your baby is born

If you quit smoking during pregnancy you might be looking forward to rewarding your 9 months of abstinence with a cigarette after your baby is born. However, it’s not only best for your health to keep away but for your baby too. Cigarette smoke can make babies sick, even when it lingers on your clothes or hair. Nicotine is passed on to your baby through breast milk which can make them irritable and cause chest infections, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The same goes for alcohol. Whilst a glass of wine might seem appealing, it’s advised that you don’t drink at all if you’re planning on breast feeding or expressing milk. If you have an event coming up and you would like to drink, planning ahead for you and your baby is key. Waiting two hours after each standard drink before feeding is safest for your baby.

Where can I get help?

Making changes to your lifestyle isn’t easy at the best of times. Being pregnant is sometimes stressful and you might find it harder than anticipated to stay away from your vices – especially if you’re used to using them for comfort or stress relief.

If you’re having difficulties – speak up! You might feel as though your doctor will judge you but they are best placed to help and might be able to offer you specialised techniques or therapy. There’s no shame in asking for help and in doing so you will be giving your baby the best chance at a healthy start in life.