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Alcohol, tobacco and drug use during pregnancy

Pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy often think about making changes to have a healthy pregnancy, such as eating better.  One of the most important things you can do to have the healthiest baby possible is avoid alcohol, smoking, recreational drugs and some medications.

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy:

Do you have questions or need help?

It's never too late to quit smoking. If you would like help quitting smoking visit The Stop Smoking Clinic.

There is no determined safe level of drinking alcohol (external link) during any stage of pregnancy

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can :

Drugs can also lead to birth defects and learning problems.

If you would like help or have questions about alcohol and drug use, contact Motherisk (external link).

Find out more about FASD (external PDF) as well as supports and programs in Halton.

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Quitting or reducing smoking (external link) is a good decision, especially when you are pregnant. There are benefits at all stages of your pregnancy… it is never too late!

Physical benefits to you after quitting:

  • Within 20 minutes:
    Blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature in your hands and feet return to normal
  • Within 8 hours:
    Amount of oxygen in your blood improves
  • Within 24 hours:
    Sense of taste and smell improve
  • Within 3 days:
    Lung capacity improves, airways relax if they are not damaged, breathing is easier
  • 2 weeks to 3 months:
    Circulation improves, lungs begin to work better, walking is easier
  • At 1 year:
    Risk of heart disease is reduced by half
  • At 5-15 years:
    Risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer continuously lowers

Reproduced with permission from Region of Peel Public Health (external link)

Smoking has been shown to cause serious health problems to you and your baby

  • Smoking during pregnancy can cause placental problems, vaginal bleeding early or late in pregnancy, premature rupture of the membranes and preterm labour (external PDF file). Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death in Canada.
  • Smoking can also result in low birth weight and miscarriage. Pregnant women who smoke also face more problems in labour and birth and are at higher risk for delayed tissue healing following a caesarean delivery.
  • Exposure to second hand smoke has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (external link) (SIDS). Babies who breathe second-hand smoke have more colds, chest infections and asthma. It is important to keep your home and car smoke-free.
  • Babies may be born with lungs that are not developed properly and many suffer from bronchitis, pneumonia, and/or asthma. As they grow, they may have learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

If you have questions about smoking and pregnancy:

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If I smoke, can I still breastfeed?

Yes. If you smoke, breastfeeding is very important for your baby - especially as it helps protect your baby’s lungs from the negative affects of cigarette smoke. If you must, it's better to breastfeed before having a cigarette and to smoke as few cigarettes as possible because when breastfeeding, nicotine is passed to the baby through breast milk. Your baby may be cranky, restless and spit up more often from the chemicals that pass through your breast milk. Keep in mind:

  • Breast milk is the best food for your baby - It is easily digested and it protects your baby from many diseases.
  • That smoking may decrease the amount of milk produced and slow the let-down reflex.
  • That your baby is affected by the second-hand smoke in the air no matter how you feed your baby.

Things you can do to reduce the effect of smoking on breastfeeding:

  • Quit smoking if you can (external link)
  • Smoke less. Chemicals in tobacco smoke are passed to your baby through the breast milk as well as by breathing smoke-filled air.
  • Smoke after breastfeeding rather than before.
  • Reduce the amount of time your baby is exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke.
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Medication and Herbs

During pregnancy, a growing baby can be harmed by some types of medications when they pass from a pregnant woman to her baby; some other medications are considered safe.

Medications that are not considered safe during pregnancy can include:

  • prescription medication
  • over-the-counter drugs (medicines available without a prescription)
  • natural products such as herbs and supplements
  • natural remedies

If you are planning a pregnancy or pregnant, speak to your health care provider or a pharmacist, or call the experts at Motherisk to ask about the medication(s) you are taking to ensure you make an informed decision that is best for you and your baby.

Street Drugs

Using street drugs such as marijuana and cocaine has many harmful effects to a growing baby during pregnancy and after the baby is born. You are not alone.  Hope Place Centres provide an ‘abstinence-based’ approach to recovery that is sensitive to a woman’s individual needs, situations and experiences.


The most commonly used drug is caffeine. A small amount of caffeine is safe during pregnancy. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, the recommendation is no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day. This is approximately two cups (250 ml) of coffee per day.

Help is available.  If you need help or have questions about drug use during pregnancy, contact:

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