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Social Drugs to Avoid

Research reveals that common social drugs, such as coffee and cigarettes, used through pregnancy have inherent risks for the developing baby.

Research indicates that social drugs used during pregnancy have many inherent risks for the developing baby. It is now widely recognised and accepted that the placenta does not act as a barrier to harmful substances. Drugs can also be passed to a newborn through the mother’s milk during breastfeeding.

Babies born to mothers who smoke marijuana and drink alcohol have been found to have a greater risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and are at greater risk of low birth weight.

Drugs affect the absorption of essential nutrients in a number of ways. For example, alcohol causes a loss of B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. It is ideal if both parents can cease recreational drug use in the months leading up to conception. Furthermore, it is recommended that drugs be eliminated throughout the pregnancy and during breastfeeding.


Found in tea, coffee, soft drinks, foods and medicines.

Decaffeinated products are generally not recommended as often the chemicals used in the process of caffeine removal include petroleum-based solvents and other stimulants with possible harmful residue.

Although caffeine relieves fatigue momentarily, in the long term it raises blood pressure and stimulates the kidneys.
It is believed to affect both male and female reproduction. For males, it affects sperm mobility, and in females, it has been linked with miscarriage, chromosomal abnormality and congenital multiple-abnormality. Caffeine is also thought to compromise foetal development during pregnancy.

Amphetamines (Speed)

Speed is associated with premature babies and possibly baby heart problems.

Cocaine and Crack

Cocaine abuse significantly reduces the weight of the foetus and increases the rate of stillbirth. Even a one-off dose can damage a foetus. The cocaine-derivative, crack, has similar effects, however, is much more addictive and is more rapidly absorbed into the vascular system.


Ecstasy is associated with an increased risk of placental bleeding. Known as the “love drug” ecstasy is considered a relatively new drug, thus there is limited research into any long-term effects. Ecstasy affects the body’s thermostat or internal heating system controlled by the thyroid, and has a highly dehydrating affect on the kidneys and body as a whole. Ironically, it was first used in clinical sessions to assist troubled couples with fertility.


Along with other opiate drugs such as morphine, opium and codeine, heroin is linked with decreased fertility and decreased testosterone. Women users have: three times greater risk of stillbirth, four times greater risk of having a premature birth and six times the chance of a baby suffering growth deficiency. It is known that amongst babies born to heroin users, there is a higher incidence of, jaundice, respiratory distress syndrome, low birth weight and pre-natal fatality. A baby born to a heroin-addicted mother is born with an addiction to the drug and must undergo a withdrawal program.

Heroin and methadone

Newborn babies share their mother’s heroin addiction and therefore suffer withdrawal symptoms when they are born. If done with medical supervision, this can be managed by medical staff. Prescribed methadone is preferable to heroin in pregnancy because it supplies a regulated dose to the foetus. The baby must be weaned from its methadone addiction after birth. Coming off heroin suddenly is dangerous and if done while pregnant, can cause miscarriage. Consult your doctor or health professional first.


LSD increases the risk of miscarriage and chromosomal damage.


Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive substance in marijuana, has the steroid structure found in the sex hormones and certain hormones of the adrenal gland. THC tends to accumulate in the ovaries and testes. In women, it can upset the menstrual cycle. It has been linked with lower sperm count, greater impotency and lowers libido, as well as lower sperm mobility and higher level of abnormal sperm.

The drug has been shown to affect the synthesis of DNA and to slow the growth rate of cells. It is likely for babies to be smaller because of the increased carbon monoxide levels, which causes less oxygen available to the foetus.


The dangers of smoking remain a topic of debate; however, it is widely accepted that smoking during pregnancy is a major cause of abnormality, handicap and deformity in children. There are more than 4,000 known compounds in tobacco smoke with nicotine the most commonly known.

Babies born to smoking mothers have lower birth weight and this is due to hypoxia. Nicotine itself causes decrease in uterine blood flow, therefore a reduction in oxygen and nutrients being transported to the developing foetus, and interferes with protein metabolism in the placenta. Research has also found abnormally large areas of dead tissue in the placenta of women who smoke during pregnancy. Damage to the placenta further interferes with nutrition for the foetus.

Heavy smokers risk a higher incidence of miscarriage and foetal malformation including cleft palate, harelip, and problems with the central nervous system and minor brain damage. Studies indicate poorer learning ability and behavioural problems in children born to smokers. Children of smokers have higher rates of illness, particularly respiratory infections, and increased risk of cot death.

Passive smoking is also seen as a danger. Carbon monoxide, released by burning cigarettes and cigars, builds up in the atmosphere. High levels lead to a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, depriving the foetus of oxygen.


Although there is little dispute about the existence Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, there is still considerable disagreement about how much alcohol it is safe to drink. It is known that alcohol travels through the bloodstream to affect the sperm, egg and developing foetus. In the United States, some studies suggest that even the smallest amount of alcohol is detrimental to foetal development and abstinence is generally recommended.

The drinking habits of the male are often overlooked yet it is known that alcohol affects the sperm. In heavy drinkers, the sperm often lack normal tails affecting mobility of the sperm. Research has shown alcohol to cause loss of sperm cells and an increase in abnormal sperm. It also affects testosterone levels and has been linked to male impotence.
Children born to drinking mothers have shown some of the following physical abnormalities:

  • central nervous dysfunction
  • varying degrees of mental retardation
  • growth deficiencies including low birth weight
  • facial abnormalities
  • heart and dental defects
  • birthmarks
  • weak ability to suck properly

There is suggestion that FAS may be associated with behavioural patterns such as hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder.

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