You don't hear much, if anything, about the need for a dad-to-be to skip drinking, smoking, or doing drugs while the woman in his life is expecting a baby. Pregnancy precautions are, understandably, usually about the moms — what they should and shouldn't do.
Tracking the progress of more than 800 children through young adulthood, researchers at the University of Washington found that many of the females in the study who eventually became pregnant put their babies at serious — even deadly — risk by using alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana.
But also noteworthy, say the researchers, is that "men's substance abuse was not affected by their partner's pregnancy." The would-be fathers continued to drink, smoke, or do drugs consistently while their partners were pregnant and after their babies were born. By abusing substances that should be avoided during pregnancy, the dads don't make it any easier for moms-to-be to quit their bad habits, say the researchers.
The study also reports that:
- During pregnancy, women's cigarette- and marijuana-smoking and binge drinking went down overall, but those rates went back up again within the first 6 months after the baby was born.
- Almost 80% of the women who smoked cigarettes and half of those who smoked marijuana continued to light up those substances at one time or another while they were pregnant.
- Nearly 40% of the women who smoked cigarettes and almost a quarter of those who used marijuana said they'd done so during their entire pregnancies.
The study also found that the women often went back to their unhealthy pregnancy ways within 2 years after giving birth, which put their infants' health at risk when they were exposed to cigarette or marijuana smoke and made for much less coherent, attentive parents when mom and/or dad drank too much or did drugs.
What This Means to You
If you're pregnant, you've likely been told by your doctor, friends, family members, maybe even total strangers that smoking, drinking, and doing drugs are a major no-no. But maybe you've wondered why and what, exactly, using these substances can do to your baby. So, here's the basic gist of the hazards behind each:
One of the most common known causes of mental and physical birth defects, alcohol produces more severe abnormalities in a developing fetus than heroin, cocaine, or marijuana. It may seem harmless to have a glass of wine at dinner or a mug of beer out with friends, but no one has determined what's a "safe amount" of alcohol to drink during pregnancy or just how much can cause the serious physical, developmental, and functional problems seen in fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Even moderate alcohol intake or occasional binge drinking can possibly damage a baby's developing nervous system. That's why it's always wise to err on the side of caution and not drink any alcohol at all while you're pregnant. If you had a drink or two before you knew you were expecting (as many women do), don't worry too much about it. But your best bet is to not drink any more alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy.
If you're an alcoholic or think you may have a drinking problem, talk to your doctor about it. And be honest about how much alcohol you've consumed during your pregnancy and when, so the doctor can get a better idea of how your unborn baby may have been affected.
Pregnant women who use drugs may be placing their unborn babies at risk for:
- premature birth
- poor growth
- birth defects
- behavior and learning problems
- being born addicted to those drugs
If you've used any drugs at any time during your pregnancy, tell your doctor — even if you've quit, your unborn child could still be at risk for health problems. If you're still using drugs, talk to your doctor for help on how to quit now.
When you smoke during pregnancy, you pass nicotine and carbon monoxide to your growing baby and seriously increase the risks of:
- low birth weight
- asthma and other respiratory problems
- childhood cancer, leukemia, lymphomas, and brain tumors
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Regular exposure to secondhand smoke is hazardous to fetuses, too, and can cause problems like low birth weight and slowed growth. Secondhand smoke is also extremely unhealthy for children of all ages — it contains 250-plus chemicals proven to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), from arsenic and ammonia to hydrogen cyanide. What's worse, concentrations of many of these chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.
So, once you have your baby, it's essential to stay smoke-free and make sure others around your little one do the same — or at least take their bad habit elsewhere.
If you're pregnant and having a hard time quitting smoking, drinking, or doing drugs, talk to your doctor about how to get the help you need to stop now and stay substance-abuse-free in the future — for your sake and your baby's. And if it's your partner who's having problems, urge him to get help, too, to give your little one a safer, healthier, and more positive home environment.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2008
Source: "Men's and Women's Patterns of Substance Abuse Around Pregnancy," Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, March 2008.