During pregnancy it is important to be aware that all the substances you put into your body have the potential to harm your unborn baby.

Tobacco

Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born underweight. It has also been linked to miscarriage, prematurity, impaired heart rate and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). See pregnancy and smoking.

Medicines and other drugs  

These include some prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural medicines such as herbal remedies or nutrition supplements. It is important to speak to your health care provider to check the safety of all medications, supplements or remedies during pregnancy.  

Avoid and abstain from: 
  • illegal use of prescription drugs, such as benzodiazepines or morphine 
  • illegal drugs, such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine or amphetamines 
  • substances used as drugs, such as inhalants, glues or aerosols 

For further information about the effect of these drugs on your baby’s development and how to get help please see Obstetric Medicines Information Service   

Alcohol

The safest option for women is to abstain from drinking if they are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding. This is the advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). 

Alcohol can cause damage to the unborn child at any time during pregnancy, even before a pregnancy has been confirmed. Alcohol is known to cause foetal birth defects, brain damage, poor growth, and developmental delays. This leads to low IQ, learning difficulties, social and behavioural problems in childhood and beyond.   

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong condition relating to permanent brain damage caused by foetal alcohol exposure. It is a condition that is a symptom of parents either not being aware of the dangers of alcohol use when pregnant or planning a pregnancy or not being supported to stay healthy and strong during pregnancy.  

Pregnant women should never become intoxicated. This is because alcohol crosses from the mother’s blood stream into the baby’s blood stream. So when you drink, so does your baby.  

The foetal brain changes daily and there is no safe time for alcohol consumption. No alcohol is the safest choice. 

What if you drank before you knew you were pregnant?

If you drank small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, be reassured that the risk of harm to your baby is low.

Once you know you’re pregnant it’s safest to stop drinking alcohol completely for the rest of your pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding. This will increase your baby’s chances of being healthy.  

Want to know more?

Better Health Channel – Pregnancy, medication, drugs and alcohol 

The Raising Children Network – Alcohol and pregnancy in pictures and Smoking and pregnancy in pictures