108.jpg bar 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, caffeine.

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 addiction.

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 Birth. Pregnant smokers are more likely to suffer bleeding, damage to the placenta, and other problems that trigger early birth.
  • Infant Death. Smoking 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 Disease. Many 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, baby.

..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. Unwind 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 help.
  • 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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