Another thing you might have noticed if your mom or someone in your family is pregnant is that they are passing up the glass of wine with dinner and not taking smoke breaks all the time!  And you are probably wondering why not smoking or drinking alcohol while pregnant is such a big deal. Read on to find out more about the dangers that nicotine and alcohol can mean for a unborn baby.

The Dangers of Nicotine

Giving up smoking can be really hard for a pregnant woman to do — but it is totally worth the effort!  Smoking during pregnancy passes harmful chemicals in the cigarettes from the mother directly to her baby and can be bad news for mom and baby because it can:

  • Lower the amount of oxygen that is available to the baby while it is growing
  • Increase the chance that a baby will developing breathing problems after birth
  • Increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) which is the number one killer of babies under one year of age
  • Increase the risk of birth defects like a cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Increase the risk of serious problems with the pregnancy, such as premature birth (being born before the full 40 weeks of pregnancy are over), low birth weight and even loss of the pregnancy, called a miscarriage if it happens before 20 weeks of pregnancy and a stillbirth if it happens after 20 weeks.

It’s not just a matter of whether a mother smokes or not, either.  Secondhand smoke — which means being around someone who smokes — can also be bad for mom and baby. It can also cause stillbirths, miscarriages and premature births and in addition to this makes it more likely that a baby will later develop allergies and asthma. Babies whose moms are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at a greater risk of respiratory infections and ear infections after they are born.  They might also grow more slowly than other babies.

The Dangers of Alcohol

It is also important that women do not drink alcohol when they are pregnant. Some women think that it is okay to drink a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy as long as they don’t drink too much. But the problem is that doctors don’t know just how much alcohol it takes to hurt a baby before it is born. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics — which is made up of more than 60,000 children’s doctors from all over America — tell women that no amount of alcohol should be considered safe and that they should stay away from it entirely.

Here is why alcohol is dangerous for an unborn baby:

  • When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, that alcohol goes into her bloodstream and then into the bloodstream of the baby. The baby’s system cannot break alcohol down as well as the mother’s can, however, so the level of alcohol in the baby’s bloodstream is even higher than its mother’s.  Alcohol is known to be able to do damage to the brain.
  • Like smoking, alcohol can increase that chances of a premature birth, miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Women who drink during pregnancy also run the risk of their baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This disorder can include deformities of face, aggression and other serious behavior problems, learning disabilities, a low IQ and delayed development, smaller heads and brains and problems with their vision and hearing.  There is no cure for FAS and it is a lifelong condition that can seriously affect a baby’s quality of life as it grows up.


For women who are hooked on nicotine or alcohol when they get pregnant, quitting can be really, really hard for them.  But the good news is that they do not have to do it alone!  There are many support groups for people trying to stop smoking or drinking that can give someone the emotional support they need to make this lifestyle change.  And if a woman talks to her doctor, they can come up with a game plan to help with quitting that might include support groups, talking to a therapist or even specially medications.  Women who have the support they need are much more likely to be able to quit and still have a safe and healthy pregnancy.

So now you know why it’s so important to stay away from cigarettes (and other tobacco products) during pregnancy.  It can be a tough lifestyle change to make, but it is better for mom and baby both!