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Maternity Unit

Smoking and drinking

Smoking and drinking can be harmful to both mother and baby during pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy

Stopping smoking benefits both you and your baby immediately. Carbon monoxide and other harmful chemicals will clear from the body and oxygen levels will return to normal.

Stop_smoking.jpgWhen you smoke, 4,000 chemicals and a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide pass into your lungs making less oxygen available for the baby which means the baby will be smaller than it should be. For every cigarette you smoke, the oxygen supplied to the baby is disrupted and your baby experiences reduced blood flow for 15 minutes.

If you stop smoking at any point during your pregnancy it is beneficial to you and your baby, the sooner you stop, the greater the benefit for both of you.

If you stop smoking:

  • you will reduce the risk of stillbirth 
  • you will reduce the risk of cot death
  • you are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and baby 
  • your baby will cope better if there are any birth complications
  • your baby is less likely to have breathing difficulties, feeding and the health problems that occur with prematurity
  • your baby is less likely to suffer with asthma, chest infections, coughs and colds and be admitted to hospital.

Stopping smoking

With help from the NHS you are four times more likely to be able to stop smoking.

Talk to your midwife or GP about your local NHS Stop Smoking Services. Alternatively, call the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline for support on

  • tel: 0800 169 9 169 (12noon to 9.00pm daily).

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT works in a different way to cigarettes. It does not contain toxic chemicals like tar or carbon monoxide. NRT is suitable for most people but when you are pregnant you must check with your doctor. An example of NRT is nicotine patches which are suitable for most regular smokers, but when you are pregnant you should remove the patch before going to bed. There is also Nicotine gum which allows nicotine to be absorbed through the lining of your mouth.

If you cannot stop smoking, there are still benefits to you and your baby in reducing the amount you smoke. Visit for more advice.

Drinking alcohol when pregnant

Alcohol can affect your baby at any stage in pregnancy so stopping or reducing at any time is still beneficial. Alcohol reaches your baby through the placenta. Your baby cannot remove alcohol as quickly as you can, so is exposed to the harmful effects of alcohol for much longer.

What are the risks to my unborn baby if I drink alcohol?

Alcohol affects your baby’s brain development throughout the pregnancy. There is still benefit in stopping or reducing the amount you drink at every stage in pregnancy. The effects on the brain include learning difficulties, low achievement at school, behavioural problems, psychiatric problems and physical difficulties. The effects of alcohol on the baby are greater if you also smoke, binge drink or have a poor diet.

What about when my baby is born?

In the most severe cases babies can be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Babies with this condition are often small and may appear different. The way the brain develops can lead to long term problems. Even if your baby does not show all the signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome your baby may still be affected. Unfortunately there is no cure for these problems. This is why it is important to get help as soon as possible in your pregnancy.

We feel that it is safest not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy

Help and guidance

All parents want the best for their baby and most women are able to stop using alcohol completely during pregnancy. If alcohol has become part of your life, we can help you plan a safer pregnancy for you and your baby. Only you can change your alcohol use, but there are lots of people who can give you support and guidance.

If you drink heavily often or every day it is important not to stop suddenly. Stopping suddenly can be harmful for you and your baby. It is important that you get the right treatment to help you cut down or stop the amount you drink.

If you have difficulties reducing the amount of alcohol you drink please discuss this with your midwife or GP. We offer support through a specialist antenatal clinic at the RVI for alcohol use in pregnancy.

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