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Alcohol, Smoking & Drugs: The Facts

Straight Talking

Many people ask me about drinking alcohol, smoking, and taking over-the-counter drugs during pregnancy. My answer is no, no, and to be very careful.

Alcohol Use

When you drink alcohol your baby is drinking it too. Therefore, you should avoid all forms of alcohol when you are pregnant. This includes beer, wine and hard liquor. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it quickly reaches the baby through the blood stream. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, lower birth weight, physical deformities, mental retardation, and motor development complications. There is no data to support a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Therefore, medical experts recommend avoiding alcohol completely during your pregnancy.

Alcohol in Cooking

Your favorite chicken casserole recipe contains 1/4 cup of wine. Is it safe to eat foods that contain alcohol during pregnancy? It is probably safe to eat a food that contains alcohol if it has been baked, or simmered for at least 1 hour. During that cooking time, most of the alcohol content evaporates from the dish and what remains is the delicious flavor. Do not consume food items that are not cooked for at least one hour. Much of the alcohol content still remains in these products.

Nonalcoholic Beer

Nonalcoholic and alcohol free do NOT mean the same thing.

Nonalcoholic beers and many nonalcoholic wines do contain some alcohol, about less than half a percent. "Alcohol free" beverages contain no alcohol.

The trace amount of alcohol in nonalcoholic products is typically NOT going to harm the baby and most physicians feel it is safe and fine. However, be aware, that those who use these products often, in large amounts, or even binge, could be doing harm. As always, discuss with your physician, too.


Smoking is not good for you anytime and it is even worse during pregnancy. Tobacco contains thousands of chemicals that cause physical and drug-like reactions in the body. Chemicals such as nicotine and carbon monoxide can reach the placenta. This reduces the amount of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your baby.

If you smoke during your pregnancy, you increase the chance that your baby will be a low birth weight infant. These infants are less healthy and have more medical complications. Smoking also increases the risk for premature delivery and miscarriage.

The best thing to do is to stop smoking completely. If you cannot quit, then smoke fewer cigarettes. The fewer cigarettes you smoke the less damage to the baby. After the baby is born, do not smoke. Infants and children of smoking parents suffer more respiratory infections and illness than children with nonsmoking parents.


Over-the-counter medication and prescription drugs can pose a risk to your baby. During pregnancy you should be especially cautious of any chemical that goes into your body, including something as common as aspirin. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking any medication.

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About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
Becky Hand

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