Alcohol and Drugs
A woman should avoid all types of drugs during pregnancy. Even common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and beverages such as coffee and tea can damage a developing fetus.
During the first three months of pregnancy, the fetus is especially subject to the teratogenic (birth defect-causing) effects of some chemical substances. The fetus can also develop an addiction to or tolerance for drugs that the mother is using.
Of particular concern to medical professionals is the use of tobacco and alcohol during pregnancy. Women who are heavy drinkers may have normal first babies but subsequently deliver children having fetal alcohol syndrome. The symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) include mental retardation, slowed nerve reflexes, and small head size. The exact amount of alcohol necessary to cause FAS is not known, but researchers doubt that any level of alcohol consumption is safe. Therefore, total abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy is recommended.
Cigarette smoking during pregnancy has more predictable effects than does alcohol. Studies have shown a 25 to 50 percent higher rate of fetal and infant deaths among women who smoke during pregnancy compared with those who do not. Women who smoke more than 10 to 15 cigarettes a day during pregnancy have higher rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature births, and low-birth-weight babies than do non-smokers. Smoking restricts the blood supply to the developing fetus and thus limits oxygen and nutrition delivery and waste removal. It appears to be a significant factor in the development of cleft lip and palate, and a significant relationship has been shown between both smoking and “secondhand” smoke and sudden infant death syndrome. Fetal research on the effects of secondhand or side-stream smoke (inhaling smoke produced by others) is inconclusive, but babies whose parents smoke can be twice as susceptible to pneumonia, bronchitis, and related illnesses as other babies. Recent statistics for the United States show that tobacco use among pregnant women has steadily fallen since 1989, when about 20 percent of pregnant women smoked. In 1996, that rate had declined to 13.6 percent.
X-rays X-rays present a clear danger to the fetus. Although most diagnostic tests produce minimal amounts of radiation, even low levels may cause birth defects or other problems, particularly if several low-dose x-rays are taken over a short time period. Pregnant women are advised to avoid x-rays unless absolutely necessary.