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It is the age-old question: What substances are acceptable to use, and in what quantity while you are carrying a child? Is there a limit on how much alcohol you can drink without it affecting your baby? Knowing any and all effects that substances can have on your child’s health is very important.

At Adoption Choices of Oklahoma, we want to provide you with as much information as we can to prepare you for the journey ahead. One way of doing that is by giving you the do’s and don’ts regarding alcohol, smoking and drugs while pregnant. Our goal is to assist you in carrying out a healthy pregnancy.

The Importance of the Placenta

Before we begin diving into alcohol, smoking and drugs, it is important to understand the way a pregnancy works and how you and your baby are connected. To do this, we will briefly explore the purposes of the placenta and umbilical cord.

Throughout your pregnancy, the placenta and umbilical cord play important roles in ensuring your baby’s safe and healthy development. The placenta attaches to the walls of your uterus and acts as a protective barrier, while the umbilical cord provides much-needed nutrients and oxygen from your blood to your baby. Any waste that your baby produces exits through his or her blood into your own so your body can dispose of it. It is important to note that the two blood supplies do not mix. There is an interstitial space that allows this exchange of nutrients and waste.

Understanding this exchange is vital to understanding how alcohol, smoking and drugs affect your baby.

Alcohol

One of the first things advised after a pregnancy is discovered is to stop drinking alcohol. Why? Alcohol can have lasting effects on your baby. The exact amount of what is versus what’s not okay is unknown; therefore, it’s recommended you stop drinking immediately to be completely safe.

What Happens

When alcohol is consumed, it enters your bloodstream and travels throughout the body. Most commonly, it is known to affect the liver as well as the brain (resulting in intoxication). However, while pregnant, these organs aren’t the only ones that can be affected. Your stomach and small intestines also make the list. Because of the chemistry of alcohol, it can pass through the interstitial space in the placenta and pass to your baby. Unlike you, your baby is in the midst of development and cannot metabolize alcohol.

Results

When alcohol enters your baby’s bloodstream, it can damage his or her face, brain, and other organs. This damage can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects or disabilities. For instance, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) results in physical, behavioral and intellectual complications over a lifelong period. These can include abnormal facial features and size of the baby, problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones, poor coordination or memory, and difficulty in school and learning.

Smoking

Cigarettes and cigars are made of tobacco, which contains the drug nicotine. Vape juice also contains a level of nicotine as well.  Nicotine is addictive and impacts your ability to give up the habit of smoking. This, in turn, can have long term effects on your health including, but not limited to: cancer, heart or lung disease, strokes and gum disease. When pregnant, smoking can have a big effect on your baby as well. Like alcohol, there is no “safe” amount, so the best option is to quit entirely.

What Happens

Because of the connection between your blood and your baby’s blood during pregnancy, the chemicals (nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar) are passed through the umbilical cord and enter your baby’s bloodstream.  This exchange lessens the amount of oxygen available needed for your baby’s development.

Results

Like alcohol, smoking can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and birth defects. Smoking can also result in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This syndrome is the unexplained death of a baby younger than a year old.

Drugs

Many studies have shown any and all drugs — both legal and illegal — taken while a woman is pregnant has a direct impact on her baby. It’s essential that you avoid drugs as much as possible so that your baby doesn’t suffer any long-lasting effects. Caffeine and over-the-counter medication are in this category, so be sure to consult your doctor with any questions or concerns you have. It’s important to understand that anything you consume, your baby does too. Exposure to drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana can have devastating consequences.

What Happens

  • Cocaine: effects from this drug are immediate and can pass along life-threatening conditions to your baby. These include, but are not limited to: heart attack, stroke, respiratory failure, severe weight loss, loss of smell and infection.
  • Heroin: has many damaging effects on your body that can put your baby’s life at risk. Taking this drug can result in: addiction, coma, heart and lung infections, HIV, kidney and liver disease and respiratory failure.
  • Marijuana: contains a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It alters your senses and judgment factors, making it harder to think clearly. While pregnant, this chemical can pass through the umbilical cord to your baby and his or her brain.

Results

The results of drug use include: placental abruption, premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage, stillbirth and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS is the result of a baby getting addicted to a drug before birth and experiencing withdrawal after birth.

Avoiding During Your Pregnancy

Alcohol, smoking, and drugs have drastic effects on you and your baby during and after pregnancy. The wisest thing to do is avoid using any of these substances to the best of your ability, and to discuss any of your questions and concerns with your primary healthcare provider.

Addiction is a reality for a lot of women and with substances such as heroin, the result of quitting cold turkey can be death for you and your child. Talk to your doctor about the safest way to stop using substances. Our counselors at Adoption Choices of Oklahoma are here to help and support you through all aspects of your pregnancy.

Adoption Choices of Oklahoma

If you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of Oklahoma. You may visit our website here or call 405-794-7500 (Oklahoma City) or 918-982-6220 (Tulsa).

Support Adoption Choices

CrowdriseAdoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.

However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.

About the Author

Jadzia MillerJadzia Miller is currently in the final stretches of pursuing an English degree at Colorado Christian University. She has lived in the beautiful state of Colorado for the 22 years she has been on this earth, and loves exploring the beauty that is constantly surrounding her.

She aspires to pursue a career in publishing or library science; either way, Jadzia wants to be encompassed by books and stories. Living near Denver, she is surrounded by artistic pursuits and wants to continue exploring these as often as possible. Jadzia has a passion for encouraging people to read and finding joy in reading books.

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Sources:

“The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership.” The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership, sites.duke.edu/apep/module-5-alcohol-and-babies/content-how-does-alcohol-get-to-the-fetus/.

“Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007313.htm.

“Smoking, Pregnancy, and Babies.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Jan. 2019, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/pregnancy.html.

“Understanding The Umbilical Cord.” Cells For Life, 19 May 2016, cellsforlife.com/understanding-the-umbilical-cord/.

“Using Illegal Drugs During Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association, 8 Nov. 2019, americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/illegal-drugs-during-pregnancy/.

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