Pregnancy - Alcohol and other Drugs | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

Pregnancy - Alcohol and other Drugs

Pregnancy is a time of great change. If you are pregnant, or thinking about having a baby, it is important to consider the types of drugs you might be taking and how they might affect you and your pregnancy.

Drugs that may be harmful during pregnancy include:

  • legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine
  • complementary medicines such as herbal preparations and nutritional supplements
  • “over-the-counter” medicines such as antacids, cold and ‘flu medicines, diet pills, laxatives and painkillers
  • prescribed medicines such as painkillers, tranquillisers and sleeping pills
  • illegal drugs such as cannabis, ‘P’ (methamphetamine), cocaine, ecstasy, GHB, hallucinogens and heroin
  • drugs used to treat opiate or alcohol dependence such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone
  • other substances such as glues and aerosols (inhalants or volatile substances).
Alcohol and Pregnancy

Why shouldn’t you drink alcohol when you’re pregnant?

Health professionals recommend that you stop drinking alcohol if there is a possibility you may be pregnant, are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy and no safe type of alcohol.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, as well as harm to your baby causing a range of lifelong effects. This range of effects is called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD for short. The effects can include premature birth, brain damage and physical birth defects. The effects continue after the baby is born and can include developmental delay, learning disabilities, and social, emotional and behavioural problems. 

Some children affected by fetal alcohol exposure have distinct facial features, poor growth and abnormalities of the brain and its functions. Other children with FASD may not look different but still experience significant difficulties with behaviour, learning and development caused by damage to the brain from alcohol. Problems may be seen after birth, or they may not be noticeable until the child is school-age. A child with FASD faces lifelong challenges.

Increased risk of Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy (SUDI)
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of a baby for no known reason. The risk of SIDS is far greater if you smoke, use alcohol and/or other drugs during pregnancy or after your baby is born. (up to 12 times higher risk if drinking and smoking).  For more information about SIDS go to Hāpai Te Hauora.

FAQs about Alcohol and Pregnancy

Pregnancy and other Drugs
Recreational drugs (such as cannabis) can cause problems to you and your baby. Your baby may miscarry, be born too early or have a dangerously low birth weight. Drugs such as methamphetamine can cause significant harm to your baby, including brain damage and birth defects. Other drugs such as heroin may cause your baby to be born drug-dependent and suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Drug-dependent babies need expert care if they are to survive.

The use of more than one drug (including alcohol and tobacco) will increase the risks to you and your baby.

If you are using drugs, talk to your midwife (or specialist doctor), doctor or nurse. They will be able to refer you to a local service for help and support. The Alcohol Drug Helpline is also available for free, confidential information, help and support: 0800 787 797

Cannabis and Pregnancy

Like all drugs, cannabis may have the potential to cause harm to the unborn child and also harm to the baby whilst breastfeeding.  Due to this, it is recommended to not use any level of cannabis during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.

‘P’ – Methamphetamine and Pregnancy

Using ‘P’ (methamphetamine) during pregnancy can effect the development of the fetus. Use of any amphetamine type stimulant is associated with bleeding, premature labour and miscarriage. Babies born to mothers who have used amphetamines during pregnancy are at increased risk of abnormalities such as small head size, eye problems, cleft palate, delayed motor development, limb defects and changes in the brain.

Prescription Drugs and Pregnancy

Some drugs available from your chemist or prescribed by your doctor may have an effect on your developing fetus. Always read the label,  tell your chemist or doctor that you are pregnant and ask if you should be aware of any potential side effects or possible complications while you are pregnant and breastfeeding.  For more information check here

More information and Resources 
Need Help Now?

If you are finding it difficult to stop drinking talk to your midwife, doctor or if you would like to speak confidentially to someone about your or someone else’s alcohol or other drug use, or for contacts of your local counsellor or treatment provider, free phone 0800 787 797 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (from mobile or landline), free text 8681 or go to Alcohol Drug Helpline.

In an Emergency dial 111

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