Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs

Essential information to rememberIt’s not always easy to quit smoking, drinking, or using cannabis or other drugs. Ask for advice or help from a health professional (see Got questions or concerns? Need help?).

During your pregnancy, your prenatal care provider will ask you whether you smoke, drink alcohol, or use cannabis or other drugs. You may feel guilty or uncomfortable, or worry about being judged if you say yes. Rest assured, the purpose of these questions is to give you an opportunity to

  • Get the information you need
  • Talk about concerns you may have about the impacts of these habits on your health and that of your unborn baby
  • Receive prenatal care that takes your situation into account
  • Seek help if you want to quit
  • Be referred to specialists if you need additional help

Tobacco

Information to which special attention should be paidPregnant women are advised not to smoke cigarettes or expose themselves to second-hand smoke (from other smokers).

Pregnancy is a good time to quit smoking. The dangers of tobacco for the fetus, baby, and mother are real. The more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risks for the baby but there’s no safe level of cigarette use during pregnancy.

Smoking harms the development of the fetus and can impact the pregnancy in the following ways:

  • It increases the risk of placental abruption (detachment of the placenta), premature rupture of the amniotic sac, and premature birth.
  • It can slow fetal growth and result in lower birth weight.
  • It increases the risk of having a stillborn baby or a baby who dies in the days following birth.
  • It also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Information that gives comfort, confidenceIt’s never too late to quit smoking. Your baby will benefit, regardless of when during your pregnancy you actually quit.

If you have friends and family who smoke, ask them to smoke outdoors so that you and your baby won’t be exposed to tobacco smoke.

For most smokers, smoking is an addiction that can be hard to kick. A telephone helpline, website, and numerous quit-smoking centres offer their services free of charge to the public. To access the helpline service and find the centre nearest you:

iQuitnow
1-866-527-7383
tobaccofreequebec.ca/iquitnow

Alcohol

Information to which special attention should be paidPregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol throughout their pregnancy.

Pregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the potential harm to the baby. Binge drinking and regular consumption of alcohol are especially harmful.

As for occasional consumption of small amounts of alcohol, the exact effects are not known. As a precaution, it is therefore recommended to avoid alcohol completely.

The effect of alcohol on the baby is the same, regardless of the type of drink—beer, wine, or spirits.

Alcohol can have numerous harmful effects during pregnancy: it can result in miscarriage, premature birth, or a stillborn baby.

Essential information to rememberThe placenta does not filter alcohol: it lets alcohol through to the baby.

Alcohol can also negatively affect the development of the fetus’s organs and cause birth defects. The brain is the organ most sensitive to alcohol. Alcohol can cause brain damage, which can lead to learning, memory, and attention deficit disorders, problem-solving issues, and behavioural disorders. These disorders persist throughout the child’s life. Since the brain develops throughout pregnancy, it is recommended to not drink alcohol, regardless of the trimester.

Like many women, you may have consumed alcohol in the early days of your pregnancy before you knew you were pregnant. If you have concerns, you can talk to your prenatal care provider.

Essential information to rememberTake advantage of your pregnancy to try different non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails.

Photo: iStockphoto

A few tips

Explain to your partner, family and friends that it’s important for you to not drink alcohol. This will help them support you better.

Take advantage or your pregnancy to discover non‑alcoholic drinks or cocktails that can be just as tasty:

  • Sparkling water flavoured with
    • Pieces of fresh or frozen fruit (use them like ice cubes!)
    • Slices of cucumber
    • Fresh herbs
    • Syrups (grenadine, ginger, grapefruit, or others)
  • Fruit juice mixed with sparkling water
  • Homemade iced tea, cold fruit tea
  • Virgin (alcohol-free) versions of your favourite cocktails, available in virtually all bars and restaurants
  • Vegetable and fruit juices, milks, and smoothies

Cannabis

Information to which special attention should be paidPregnant women are advised not to use cannabis or expose themselves to second-hand smoke.

The effects of cannabis consumption (marijuana and other cannabis by-products) during pregnancy are a matter of concern. Effects can depend how much is used and when.

Cannabis can interfere with the growth of the fetus, which can result in lower birth weight. It may also affect brain development in the baby, leading to problems later during childhood and adolescence.

Cannabis affects the baby regardless of how it is used: smoked, vaped, eaten, or consumed in some other form. What’s more, when smoked, it can have the same effects as tobacco on the fetus.

Even though cannabis may relieve nausea in some patients, it is not a solution for pregnant women. You will find advice on relieving pregnancy nausea in the table Nausea and vomiting.

Other drugs

Information to which special attention should be paidPregnant women are advised not to use any drugs.

The effects of drugs on the unborn baby depend on several factors: the type of drugs used, the amount consumed, and the moment and way the drugs are taken. Cocaine, for example, can cause bleeding or placental detachment in pregnant women, which can, in turn, lead to the death of the fetus or premature birth.

Babies whose mothers took drugs during pregnancy may experience drug withdrawal symptoms at birth among other problems.

What’s more, there is no way to know or check exactly what substances drugs bought on the street actually contain. This increases the risks associated with using these drugs.

Got questions or concerns? Need help?

If you have questions or concerns about your consumption of alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs or you need help to quit, don’t hesitate to

  • Talk about it with a health professional
  • Contact the Drugs, Help and Referral 24/7 hotline at 514-527-2626 or 1-800-265-2626, or
    drogue-aidereference.qc.ca

For information on the problems caused by fetal alcohol exposure, you can contact the following organization:

SAFERA
418-830-1888 / 418-800-1235
safera.net (in French only).


Fetus: Developmental stage of a human being in its mother’s womb, from 10 weeks of pregnancy until birth.

Miscarriage: A spontaneous abortion, which can have a variety of causes (e.g., a deformity or disease).

Sudden infant death syndrome: The unexplainable sudden death of an apparently healthy newborn under the age of one.