Title: ‘Everyday Drugs & Pregnancy: How alcohol, tobacco, & caffeine can affect the (all-new) two of you
Author: Jennifer James
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 2011
Catalog Number: 108

..Baby Talk

..“A baby is God’s opinion that the
world should go on.” — Carl Sandburg

If Sandburg
was right, then the woman who doesn’t smoke or drink while she’s
pregnant must be God’s opinion that the world should go on better
than before.

That’s one way, at least, of looking at the mounting body of
research into the effects of these common, so-called “everyday”drugs
on pregnancy — and on the health and well-being of both babies-
and moms-to-be.

Because in recent years, researchers from around the world have
built a solid case against the use of both alcohol and tobacco
during pregnancy, and have even begun to question the value (and
examine the potential risks) of the All-American stimulant drug,

In the process, they’ve linked a lengthening list of possible
problems to their use during pregnancy — problems ranging from
discomfort and distress in the mother to mental retardation and
other birth defects in the infant.

That’s why we’ve put together this pamphlet: to give you the
opportunity, if you’re pregnant (or planning to be), to consider
how drugs that might not seem that big a deal can have a big
impact on both you and your developing baby.

We hope you’ll stick around, and hope you learn something. But
more importantly, we hope that you act, if you need to, and adopt
some of the lifestyle changes we’ll suggest.

Because we already know that you want to have a healthy baby.
The trick is getting you to do something about it.

..Critical Connections

Think you’re
just eating for two, when you’re pregnant? You’re doing a lot
more than that. You’re sharing everything from air to emotions
with that person-in-progress down there.

Because a developing fetus really is a part of its mother, sharing
oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord and across the
fluid-filled bubble known as the placenta.

We once thought of the placenta as a natural filter, shielding
the fetus from external harm. Today, we know that virtually everything
in a woman’s bloodstream passes through to the developing organs
of the fetus. And that’s where problems start.

Since a fetus can’t remove harmful substances on its own, all
the drugs a woman uses during pregnancy stay in its body longer
than they do in mom’s — and at higher, more toxic levels.

What happens next depends on how pregnant mom is. During the
first months of pregnancy, when the fetal heart, brain, and other
organs are forming, drinking or drug use can cause birth defects.
In later months, it’s more likely to slow growth and contribute
to learning and behavior problems in newborns, or even full-blown

That’s why it’s important to get yourself drug-free (if you’re
not already) as soon as you find out you’re pregnant — and keep
yourself that way throughout your pregnancy.

Because the risk to the fetus never really goes away. It just
changes, that’s all.


Some of the problems
that never go away start when a pregnant woman drinks.

What she drinks isn’t important, because any alcoholic drink
— beer, wine, or a rum punch with a little bamboo umbrella on
the side — contains roughly the same amount of pure alcohol,
about half an ounce.

How much she drinks does matter, though. At high doses, alcohol
can kill a fetus — and its mom. Still, alcohol poisoning doesn’t
happen that often. Much more common is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,
or FAS.

FAS is a set of birth defects directly linked to alcohol use
during pregnancy. Main symptoms include reduced growth, face
and head malformations, organ defects, and mental retardation.

According to a recent estimate, FAS occurs in about two of every
1,000 live births in America today. Among women who drink five
or more drinks a day, FAS rates may exceed 25 cases for every
1,000 live births.

But simply cutting down on drinking doesn’t cut it either when
it comes to reducing risk, because for every child with full-blown
FAS, 10 others suffer less severe, but no less real, “Fetal
Alcohol Effects.”

Even moderate drinking could lead to trouble. It’s linked to
reduced fetal growth and an increased risk of behavioral disorders
and “subnormal”IQ scores. And today, researchers even
warn that as few as one or two drinks a week could cause an increased
risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

So how much alcohol is safe? None — because according to the
U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, there’s simply no safe dose of
alcohol for a pregnant woman.

Need any other reason to stop drinking now?


Smoking poses
a different set of problems but the same sort of risks. That’s
why doctors urge pregnant women to stop smoking.

A main reason is the “dirtiness”of tobacco smoke: it
contains about 4,000 different chemicals, including heavy metals,
tars, gases, and even radioactive materials.
Two of the best-known chemicals in cigarette smoke are nicotine
and carbon monoxide. Both reduce oxygen flow to the fetus, while
nicotine speeds up heartbeat and increases blood pressure in
the fetus.

Main risks of smoking during pregnancy include:

  • Delayed Growth.
    The more
    a woman smokes, the less her baby grows. Twice as many babies
    weighing less than 5 pounds are born to smokers as to nonsmokers.
  • Premature
    smokers are more likely to suffer bleeding, damage to the placenta,
    and other problems that trigger early birth.
  • Infant Death.
    is a direct cause of miscarriage, stillbirth, and sudden infant
    death syndrome (crib death). Some experts say infant death rates
    rise by 20-35 percent among smoking mothers.
  • Childhood
    researchers think that childhood leukemia and other cancers can
    be traced to tobacco exposure before birth.

Still, there’s
good news amid the smoking-related gloom. Experts think that
most serious damage occurs between the fifth and eighth months
of pregnancy. That means if you stop smoking early, risks drop
back to normal.

And when it comes to building a baby, “normal”doesn’t
mean “average.” It means “perfect.”


Caffeine is the
most popular “everyday”drug in America. It plays a
main role in many of our favorite drinks — from coffee and tea
to diet cherry colas — and stars in a number of over-the-counter
medicines as well. Still, just because caffeine is everywhere
doesn’t mean it’s safe — especially for people who haven’t been
born yet.

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled caffeine
from its “safe additives”list when studies linked it
to miscarriage, heart defects, and slow fetal growth. Today,
the FDA advises pregnant women to limit their use of caffeinated
drinks and other products.

We’ll even throw one more scrap onto the pile of arguments against
the drug. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it can cause insomnia,
irritability, and tension.

While not necessarily harmful, these effects can make pregnancy
less comfortable than it could be.

And pregnancy is one of the times when we need all the comfort
we can get.

..Love in Action

We’ve all heard
the old saying that there’s no such thing as being a little pregnant. You
either are or you aren’t. There’s no middle ground, no gray areas.

The same thing applies to being careful during pregnancy. You
either put your commitment where your heart is or you put your
baby in at least some degree of risk.

If you’re pregnant and you drink, stop right now. There’s no
better way of reducing the risk to your baby.

If you smoke or drink a lot of caffeine, cut your use way back
— if you don’t cut it out altogether.

Because of all the ways you’ll ever be able to show your love
for the little person growing inside you, the best place to start
is to give him or her a fair chance at life from the very beginning.

It’s the most powerful form of love there is because it’s pure
love in action.

Your mom gave
it to you. Now it’s your turn to pass it on to the next generation,

..Sidebar | Operation Detox: Everyday Alternatives

Let’s face it.
Pregnant or not, quitting a habit can be tough once you’ve organized
your life around it. Luckily, it doesn’t take that long to beat
most “everyday” drug habits

And there are dozens of ways to wake up or wind down without
relying on alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine to do it for you. Here
are a few ways to ease the transition:

  • Deep Relaxation.
    with a warm bath instead of a glass of wine or a cocktail. Gentle
    stretching, a back rub, or a few minutes of meditation can also
  • De-Stress. Stress is the reason
    most smokers give for failing to stay tobacco-free. If stress
    is your smoking “trigger,”find another way to defuse
    it — taking deep breaths or a half-hour nap, for instance. Pregnant
    women should avoid nicotine gum or patches, though. They can
    reduce oxygen supplies to the fetus.
  • Decaffeinate.
    Energy comes
    in a lot of flavors besides mocha mint or orange cappuccino.
    A shower, a glass of juice, or even a walk around the block can
    deliver their own forms of instant energy. And if you still crave
    a cup of something hot in the morning, try herbal tea or warm
    water with lemon juice and honey.

You’ll both
be better for it.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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or check us out online at




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