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The Effects of Alcohol and Drugs on Pregnancy

Jun 13, 2014

Whether you are pregnant or trying-to-conceive, it is imperative that you avoid consuming alcohol and using drugs in order to achieve a safe, full-term pregnancy. Depressants, such as alcohol, stimulants, and some commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) can all be damaging to fetal development.

Some doctors may say an occasional drink will unlikely post any harm to the fetus. However, other doctors advise their patients to avoid alcohol altogether. However, according to obstetrician Dr. Shamsah Amersi there is no data that says how much alcohol during pregnancy is safe, therefore expecting mothers should avoid alcohol altogether. She explains that if you have alcohol in the first trimester without realizing you were pregnant, especially large quantities of alcohol, this can result in miscarriage, still birth, and also long-term problems. The baby may be exposed to other troubles such as cognitive development and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). A baby with FAS may have mental and physical challenges that develop into life-long traumas.

Don’t panic if you occasionally drank before knowing you were pregnant.  According to obstetrician Dr. Anthony Chin a baby does not have a vascular connection to the mother during the first few weeks after conception. The placenta forms connecting the mother and baby around 7 to 8 weeks after fertilization. After the placenta starts to form, then any alcohol or drug usage during pregnancy actually can get to the baby.

Obstetrician Dr. Jay Goldberg recommends that his patients only use certain over-the-counter medications during pregnancy, such as Tylenol®, Tums® and Benadryl®. Any other medications for ailment, it’s safest to check with your doctor before taking anything. Taking more than the recommended dosage of OTCs or consuming nonprescription drugs can affect blood flow to the placenta, cause birth defects or other adverse effects on the fetus.

Illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines have toxins that cross into the placenta and can cause harm to the baby. Cocaine, for example, can enter the baby’s blood circulation, which can lead to a miscarriage or placental abruption. Marijuana can prevent the necessary oxygen supply from reaching the baby, and methamphetamines can increase the baby and mother’s heart rate.

If you are on a prescription drug and hope to get pregnant, the ideal situation would be to contact your prescribing doctor. Clinical psychologist Dr. Shoshana Bennett explains that setting up a medical plan of action is the very best thing you can do. According to Dr. Bennett, your doctor will advise you whether to stay on or wean off the prescription medication during pregnancy. Do not try to make that decision yourself, as you may have complicated reactions. You may find yourself feeling bad again, getting depressed, or feeling anxious.

Help is always available if you believe you have a drinking or drug problem. Do not become overpowered if you aren’t able to quit on your own. Realizing you have an issue is the first step in the right direction. You can receive help through any of the following options:

  • Speak openly with your healthcare provider
  • Contact a crisis intervention hotline
  • Reach out to a local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter
  • Look up local substance abuse treatment facilities

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