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Dr Sarah Temple
A family doctor with more than 20 years experience working with children in both General Practice and Mental Health Services. Trained to run Emotion Coaching Parenting Courses. She has a special interest in the link between child and parental wellbeing.
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Drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine and prescription drugs

There are guidelines and risks involved with taking or using various substances during pregnancy, or near a baby - including cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs, and caffeine.
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In Short
Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Smoking increases the risk of miscarriages and abnormal babies.

Experts advise against drinking at all during pregnancy.

Alcohol can pass through the placenta and increase chances of miscarriage and other damage.

Caffeine should be limited.

Check with your Doctor before taking prescription drugs.

What can damage my unborn baby?
Cigarettes and Smoking

Smoking during pregnancy is the single biggest risk factor in causing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS in newborn babies. It is also dangerous to you and the baby during pregnancy, increasing the risk of miscarriage, blood clots?

Cigarettes contain over 400 chemicals and every time you smoke a cigarette it harms your baby. Cigarettes increase your baby’s heart rate as well as increasing the risk of abnormalities and miscarriage.

If you have found out you are pregnant and you want to stop smoking you can speak to your midwife who will be able to refer you to a smoking cessation counsellor (in the UK, there is also an NHS Smoking Healthline you can call at 0300 123 1044).

E-cigarettes aren’t risk-free, but they are much less harmful than smoking.

For more information on E-cigarettes in pregnancy please read the leaflet below.

E-cigarettes in Pregnancy Leaflet


The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists used to say that it was acceptable to drink a couple of glasses of wine (or equivalent numbers of units) a week.

In February 2015, it has now revised this advice and made a public announcement that there is no proven amount of alcohol which is definitely safe for the developing foetus. This updated advice is in line with previous NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommendations, which recommends no alcohol, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy.

It now says abstinence is the only way to be certain that your developing baby or foetus is not harmed.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explains that drinking alcohol may affect the unborn baby as some alcohol will pass through the placenta and may increase the chance of miscarriage and cause other damage.

I drank a lot of alcohol before I knew I was pregnant, what should I do?

Pregnant women often worry that they have drunk alcohol before they knew they were pregnant. Luckily, pregnancy tests today give women a positive test very early in the pregnancy.

If you are concerned, speak to your GP or midwife and don’t be embarrassed as it is a question they get asked on a daily basis with newly pregnant women.

How much alcohol is there in drinks?

One unit of alcohol is about half a pint of beer or 4.5%lager or a single 25ml measure of spirits whereas a pint of strong lager (5.2% ) is three units.

A small (175ml) glass of 12%wine is just over 2 units.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Over-consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. These disorders can have a lifelong impact on a child’s development and even affect a child’s facial features in incidences of high levels of alcohol intake.


Caffeine consumption should be limited, during pregnancy and UK guidelines suggest that the maximum amount is 200mg per day. This is the equivalent of 1 really strong cup of coffee, or 2 cups of instant coffee, or 3 cups of tea. Some fizzy drinks and chocolate will also contain caffeine and should be limited. If you still would like to drink tea or coffee during your pregnancy in higher amounts, you can choose a decaffeinated option.

Interestingly quite a number of tea and coffee loving women report they completely go off their favourite drink and often opt for natural caffeine free teas like mint tea and chamomile tea.

One theory is that morning sickness and pregnancy taste changes are natural defence systems that protect your developing foetus in the first trimester when they would be most susceptible to toxins and substances in food.

Prescription Drugs

If you need to take prescription drugs or over the counter drugs during pregnancy, your GP/ Doctor or Pharmacist should be able to recommend or prescribe an option that is safe to use during pregnancy.

It can be difficult because most pharmaceutical companies do not do extra tests to assess whether their drugs are safe to use during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding. So they often just put on a generic, not suitable for use in pregnancy or whilst nursing. In some cases, you will be advised to stop taking your usual prescription drugs during pregnancy.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.