Alcohol and drugs during pregnancy (En)
Drinking when you’re pregnantWhen you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. A baby’s liver is one of the last organs to develop fully and does not mature until the last half of pregnancy. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect your baby’s development. Because of this risk, avoid drinking alcohol if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
If you choose to drink, protect your baby by not drinking more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week, and don’t get drunk. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises women who are pregnant to avoid alcohol in the first three months in particular, because of the increased risk of miscarriage.
Drinking isn’t just dangerous for the baby in the first three months: it can affect your baby throughout pregnancy. If you drink heavily during pregnancy, your baby could develop a group of problems known as foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with this syndrome have:
- restricted growth
- facial abnormalities
- learning and behavioural disorders
Binge drinking and drinking more than one or two units once or twice a week may be associated with lesser forms of FAS. The risk is likely to be greater the more you drink. If you are drinking with friends:
- find a non-alcoholic drink that you enjoy
- sip any alcohol you do drink slowly to make it last
- don’t let people pressure you into drinking
- avoid getting drunk
What is a unit of alcohol?
One UK unit is 10ml (or eight grams) of pure alcohol. This is equal to:
- half a pint of beer, lager or cider at 3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV: you can find this on the label)
- a single measure (25ml) of spirit, such as whisky, gin, rum or vodka, at 40% ABV
- half a standard (175ml) glass of wine at 11.5% ABV
You can find out how many units there are in different types and brands of drinks with the Drinkaware unit calculator. If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink, talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist. Confidential help and support is available from local counselling services.
Pills and medicines in pregnancy
Some medicines, including common painkillers, can harm your baby’s health. Other medicines are safe, such as medication to treat long-term conditions such as asthma, overactive thyroid, underactive thryroid, diabetes and epilepsy. To be sure a medicine is safe in pregnancy:
- always check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking any medicine
- make sure your doctor, dentist or other healthcare professional knows you’re pregnant before they prescribe anything or give you treatment
- talk to your doctor immediately if you take regular medication, ideally before you start trying for a baby or as soon as you find out you are pregnant
- use as few over-the-counter medicines as possible
Medicines and treatments that are usually safe include:
- most antibiotics
- dental treatments, including local anaesthetics
- some types of vaccinations, including tetanus and flu
- nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
However, always check with your midwife, doctor or pharmacist first.
Illegal drugs in pregnancyUsing illegal drugs during pregnancy (including cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin) can have a serious effect on your unborn baby. However, people who regularly use drugs daily should not stop using abruptly without first seeking medical advice. This is because of possible withdrawal problems or other side effects.
Drug treatment can benefit you and your unborn baby by helping you to overcome your addiction. If you use drugs or alcohol, or you think you have a substance misuse problem, it’s important to seek help straight away so you can get the right advice and support.
You can get help from your maternity team, your GP and from specialist treatment services. They can also help you access a wide range of other services such as antenatal and family support.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy in pregnancy
Not all “natural” remedies are safe in pregnancy. Tell your pharmacist and midwife or doctor if you are using herbal, homeopathic or aromatherapy remedies.
If you decide to use these therapies, contact the Institute for Complementary Medicine to make sure that your practitioner is qualified. You should tell your practitioner that you are pregnant before discussing any course of therapy.
X-rays in pregnancy
Avoid X-rays during pregnancy if possible. Make sure your doctor or dentist knows that you’re pregnant before they treat you. Find out more about X-ray risks in pregnancy.