All these substances are known to be harmful to your growing fetus. Ideally you should stop using these substances both before you become pregnant and during your pregnancy.

Use of these substances around the time of conception can increase your risk of miscarriage. Between weeks 3 and 8 of your pregnancy all your baby’s organs are being formed. During this time toxins from all these substances pass from your bloodstream into your growing baby’s bloodstream and can cause defects in your baby’s developing organs and limbs. Use of these substances, at any time during your pregnancy, has the potential to slow down or interrupt the normal growth and development of your growing baby.

Tobacco smoking

Most women are aware that smoking is harmful to their growing baby. Many parents find that pregnancy can be a powerful motivator for giving up smoking. At least two people benefit if you quit smoking before or during pregnancy – you and your unborn child, as well as everyone else in your household.

Some good reasons to try to stop smoking or reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke each day are:-

  • Smoking slows the baby’s growth and reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to your baby.
  • Miscarriage and premature birth occur more often for women who smoke.
  • Babies of smokers are more frequently distressed by the normal process of labour and birth, and more often need medical help to be born and special medical care after birth than babies of non-smokers.
  • Mothers who smoke are more likely to have a postpartum haemorrhage after they deliver their placentas
  • Smoking reduces both the quality and quantity of breastmilk a woman is able to produce.
  • Babies of mothers/parents who smoke experience more bronchitis, asthma, eczema, ear infections etc than babies of non-smokers.
  • Cot death is more common amongst babies of smokers.
  • Smoking has been shown to cause many mouth, throat, respiratory and circulatory diseases and cancers.

Quitting smoking is the best decision you can make for you and your growing baby. You’ll improve your health and have a more enjoyable pregnancy.

Tip – Find a nice big jar or container. Make this your stop smoking piggybank. Put the money you would spend on cigarettes into it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it adds up! Use this money for healthy treats like pregnancy massage or exercise class; or going out to dinner, movies, shows etc (These will “buy” you some more smokefree time since the law in NZ prevents you from smoking in these places.); buy new clothes; a weekend holiday etc

Ask you LMC for information about programmes that will support you to stop smoking or self refer to the Quitline 0800 778 778.


  • There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe for pregnant women to drink.
  • There is no known stage of pregnancy when it is safe to drink alcohol.

No-one knows what a safe level of alcohol consumption is for a pregnant woman.

What we do know is that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the main preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in babies.

A significant number of babies (estimates in NZ range from 21 – 600 babies per year) are born with birth defects or developmental disabilities that are caused by the alcohol their mothers drank when they were pregnant.

The best way to avoid the possibility of your unborn baby being damaged by alcohol is to stop drinking if you even suspect you could be pregnant.

No alcohol is the safest option for pregnant women. Also, because women often do not know they are pregnant for a few months, if you think you may be pregnant or if you are trying to become pregnant, you (and your partner*) should also try not to drink alcohol.

* Alcohol kills sperm, so regular alcohol consumption can make men less fertile, and heavy drinking can cause temporary impotence

Tip -?If you’re accustomed to using alcohol for stress release, try replacing it with other stress-reducing pleasures such as a warm bath, a massage or Reiki appointment, a pregnancy yoga or Pilates class or a good book or DVD.

Just because you’re pregnant it doesn’t mean that you are confined to drinking water or juice. If you’re out, challenge the barperson to make you an interesting non-alcoholic cocktail etc. Search the internet, there are hundreds of recipes for non-alcoholic drinks, and invite friends around for a non-alcoholic cocktail party or just make a fun and interesting non-alcoholic drink for you and your partner and chill out together.

Where to go for help

For non-judgmental support and assistance with reducing your dependence on alcohol, contact CADS (Community Drug and Alcohol Services), Pregnancy and Parental Service09 845 1818.

Recreational Drug and substance use during pregnancy

If women use illegal non-pharmaceutical drugs & party pills during pregnancy they place the fetus at risk of a range of different longterm developmental, learning and behavioural problems.

Solvent use during pregnancy can also cause limb and heart defects in the developing baby.

The use of “hard” drugs like cocaine, heroin and morphine can cause damage to the chromosomes in both the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg and will lead to physical and/or brain defects in a baby.

Babies who are regularly exposed to addictive drugs or substances during pregnancy usually experience severe withdrawal symptoms in the days after they are born. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms varies depending on the type of drug or substance and the mother’s frequency of substance abuse during pregnancy.

All these adverse outcomes are preventable if you stop using recreational drugs and substances while you are pregnant.

Where to go for help

For nonjudgmental support and assistance with drug use or dependency issues contact CADS (Community Drug and Alcohol Services) Pregnancy and Parental Service 09 845 1818.

Prescription and non-prescription medicines and drugs

If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant you should avoid the use of any medical drugs etc unless you have checked with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that they have been shown to be safe for use during pregnancy.

The prescribed amount of any drug that you take is tested to be safe for an adult sized body with fully mature liver and kidneys. Your tiny developing baby is exposed to the same quantity of medicine as you are and it can stay in their tiny bodies for a much longer time because their liver and kidneys are not mature so it takes longer for them to process and excrete.

Medical drug use around the time of conception can mean that you have chemicals in your body that interfere with the normal process of conception leading to miscarriage.

During weeks 3 – 8 of pregnancy your baby’s organs and limbs etc are forming so drug use during this time can lead to organ or limb damage or deformity.

From week 8 onwards the risk of major defects is reduced but medical drug use during this time can cause reduced growth and retarded development.