Health and Safety
Alcohol and Tobacco Use
How does alcohol affect the fetus?
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in lifelong disabilities for your child. This is called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Children with FASD have problems with hearing, speech and vision, learning problems, poor memory, and poor coordination. They also have difficulty handling emotions. These challenges make it difficult for them to handle even simple daily life tasks.
When you drink during pregnancy, alcohol passes from your bloodstream to the baby. This can have an effect on your baby’s brain development. There is no known safe amount of alcohol and no known safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Daily drinking and binge drinking (four or more drinks at any one time) are the most risky. Since we don’t know any safe level of alcohol use in pregnancy, it is recommended that women do not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.
What are solutions?
- Plan to stop drinking before you become pregnant.
- If you are already pregnant, stop drinking as soon as possible. It is never too late to stop.
If you find it hard to stop drinking:
- Talk to your health care provider or someone you trust about services and supports to help you.
- Contact a Pregnancy Outreach Program for assistance.
- Ask for help from a support group or alcohol and drug counsellor.
- Visit the Motherisk website or call them toll‑free at 1‑877‑327‑4636.
- If you cannot stop drinking completely, it is important to reduce the amount you drink - less is better, none is best.
Partners can help by not drinking alcohol. They can also help by being involved with the mother in social activities that don’t involve alcohol. Bring a bottle of sparkling apple juice to a friend’s house for dinner, or go to a movie instead of a bar or nightclub. A milkshake or 100% juice is a healthy substitute for beer.
It is best to stop smoking before you plan to become pregnant. Smoking and second‑hand smoke are harmful before and during pregnancy, and after your baby is born. Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain over 4000 chemicals that can cross the placenta and go into the baby’s blood.
If you are pregnant and smoke, now is the time for both you and your partner to reduce and stop smoking.
To help you reduce and stop smoking:
- See your health care provider.
- Join a stop‑smoking program.
- Contact QuitNow by phone at 8-1-1 for free, confidential, no‑pressure counselling and support from trained specialists. Or you can visit the QuitNow website and log in for support.
- For information on local stop smoking programs, call your public health office, HealthLink BC at 8‑1‑1, or visit the HealthLink BC website.
- If you need more reasons to quit, see the HealthLink BC file The Harmful Effects of Second‑hand Smoke.
- Ask for the support of your physician or midwife, partner, friends, family, and co‑workers.
- Buy yourself something special with the money you save.
- If you find that you smoke to deal with stress, find other healthy ways to relax.
- Focus on the health of your baby as a motivator.
The best thing you can do is quit smoking. No one should smoke in your home. A smoke‑free home is important for your baby’s health and for everyone else in
Harmful effects of smoking on the mother and father:
- promotes high cholesterol
- increases the risk of cancer of the cervix, infertility, and menstrual problems
- is a powerful stimulant and extremely addictive
- causes gum disease, heart and circulatory disease, lung and other cancers, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis
Smoking and exposure to second‑hand smoke during pregnancy contribute to a higher risk of:
- slowing your baby’s growth and development
- miscarriage or stillbirth
- preterm birth and low birth weight
Smoking and second‑hand smoke after birth contributes to a higher risk of:
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- More hospital admissions in the first year of life than children of non‑smoking parents. Children of smokers have more ear infections. They also have more asthma and bronchitis.
- A reduced milk supply in the mother.
- Your child also becoming a smoker.
Motherisk is a Canadian organization that provides specific support for pregnant and breastfeeding women. To reach their Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline, dial toll‑free 1‑877‑327‑4636.
For more information about their services, visit the Motherisk website.