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Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit
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Preconception/Pregnancy
- Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drug Use in Pregnancy

Studies have shown that alcohol, tobacco, or drug use by the mother or father can harm the developing fetus during pregnancy. 



Tobacco Use/Second Hand Smoke:

  • It is a well-known fact that smoking and inhaling second-hand smoke can cause cancer. Both are also harmful for an unborn baby. 

  • Each cigarette smoked by a pregnant woman denies the unborn baby of 20 minutes of the proper amount of oxygen needed by the baby to grow and develop. 

  • Fathers-to-be who smoke also have effects on a baby. Smoking decreases sperm health and sperm count, making men who smoke less fertile. As well, second hand smoke in the home is very harmful to both the mother and the baby, even if the mom does not smoke herself.




Smoking in pregnancy has been linked to the following conditions:

Low Birth Weight Baby:

  • When a baby weighs 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams) or less at birth. Very low birth weight is a weight of 3 pounds, 5 ounces (1,500 grams) or less. 

  • Why Should I Worry About Low Birth weight?

  • Some parents-to-be think they do not need to be concerned about low birth-weight, or that a low birth weight is even desirable. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

  • Low Birth weight is a major contributor to infant death in the first year of life. Low-birth weight babies are more likely than babies of normal weight to have medical and developmental problems, such as anaemia (not enough red blood cells), poor vision or blindness, and brain damage. A baby born with low birth weight may have learning difficulties and behavioural problems later in childhood.


Breakthrough bleeding

  • Nicotine causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the placenta. An unhealthy placenta can result in breakthrough bleeding. 


Miscarriage/death of the fetus

  • Pregnant women who smoke run almost twice the risk of having a miscarriage compared with pregnant women who don't smoke.


Placenta previa

  • A condition where the placenta partially or completely cover the cervix.


Abrubtio placenta

  • A condition where the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus too early. 


Premature rupture of membranes

  • A spontaneous rupture of membranes prior to 38 weeks


Premature birth

  • A birth prior to 38 weeks gestation


Death of infant
(Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS)

  • It is estimated that fetal and infant deaths could be reduced by approximately 10% if pregnant women stopped smoking early in pregnancy.


The Up Side:

Quitting or cutting down on the number of cigarettes smoked can increase your chances of having a healthy baby. If you eliminate your exposure to cigarette smoke even after the 6th month, some of the difficulties associated with low birth weight can be reversed. If you do not smoke, but are exposed to second hand smoke, try to eliminate or avoid the smoke.

For information on quitting smoking:

  • Health Canada
     
  • Pregnets - Helping to eliminate smoking in pregnant and postpartum women by increasing the capacity to quit and stay quit using a woman centred model of care.





Alcohol Use:

Click here for more information on an Alcohol-free pregnancy.

Contact a local addictions agency if you need help to stop using alcohol or drugs.




Drug Use In Pregnancy:

There are many substances that can be harmful to both the mother and the fetus in pregnancy. Talk with your health care provider about any prescription or over-the-counter drugs you use, even if they are herbal supplements. Find out if these medications can be safely continued during pregnancy. Motherisk is an excellent site for information and guidance concerning the potential risks to the developing fetus or infant from exposure to drugs, chemicals, diseases, radiation and environmental agents. There is also information on nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.




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