Alcohol or Other Drugs Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

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Alcohol or other drug use by a pregnant or breastfeeding woman can affect the health and development of her infant.

Possible Consequences of Alcohol Use During Pregnancy

Alcohol use can affect fetus development at any stage of a woman’s pregnancy. The brain of a fetus is particularly vulnerable to alcohol during the entire pregnancy.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, she has a higher risk of the following:

  • Miscarriages
  • Premature births
  • Perinatal death
  • An infant with the following:
    • Stunted growth (both in weight and size)
    • Physical deformities
    • Cognitive problems such as learning disabilities, attention deficits and impaired judgement
    • Social difficulties 

The consequences of fetus exposure to alcohol last a lifetime.

Scientific data is inconclusive in determining how much alcohol you can consume without risk to your infant's health.

However, we do know the following:

  • Alcohol crosses the placenta: the fetus and mother have the same concentration of alcohol in their blood
  • Two ways of consuming alcohol are particularly dangerous to the development of the fetus:
    • Drinking a large amount of alcohol in one sitting
    • Drinking alcohol regularly

There's not a single moment during pregnancy when drinking alcohol is safe.

All types of alcohol can be harmful to the fetus: wine, beer, spirits or fortified wine, such as sherry or port.

If you drink alcohol without realizing you're pregnant, talk to a health-care professional or call Info Santé 811 about it. Whether you drink regularly or occasionally, it's never too late to stop. 

Possible Consequences of Alcohol Use During Breastfeeding

Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can also have an impact on your child.

Alcohol consumed by a breastfeeding mother goes into her milk, which can do the following:

  • Reduce the milk ejection reflex
  • Change the taste of her milk
  • Affect her infant's quality of sleep

If you are breastfeeding your infant, you should avoid the following:

  • Drinking alcohol regularly
  • Drinking large quantities of alcohol occasionally

Only occasional and moderate consumption (1 or 2 drinks) should be considered.

To avoid exposing your infant to alcohol, you can do the following:

  • Breastfeed your baby or express your milk before consuming alcohol
  • Wait 2 hours after consuming alcohol before breastfeeding

Possible Consequences of Drug Use During Pregnancy

A pregnant woman who takes drugs during pregnancy has a higher risk of the following:

  • A child with stunted growth (both in weight and size)
  • Weaning-related symptoms including shivering, hyperactivity and inconsolable crying
  • Abnormal development of your child’s central nervous system, the brain for instance
  • A child with short, medium and long-term adjustment difficulties
  • Child illnesses or viruses (such as hepatitis and HIV, if she used or shared needles)

The consequences of fetus exposure to drugs last a lifetime.

If you used drugs without knowing you're pregnant, talk to a health-care professional or contact Info Santé 811 about it. Whether you do drugs regularly or occasionally, it's never too late to stop.

Possible Consequences of Drug Use During Breastfeeding

Drug use during breastfeeding can have a negative impact on your child.

If you have recently used drugs, you should temporarily stop breastfeeding your child. It's impossible to say exactly how much time you must wait before breastfeeding again. Many factors come into play, including the type of drug, how much you consumed and your state of health. For more details, speak to a health-care professional or call Info-Santé 811.

Tips to Avoid Alcohol or Other Drugs

It is recommended not to use alcohol or drugs during pregnancy.

  • If you have a habit of drinking to lower your stress, find other activities to help you relax. For instance, read, walk or watch a movie
  • Try drink recipes without alcohol or buy non-alcoholic beverages
  • Tell people around you that you have decided to not drink alcohol (discuss your reasons for this decision with them)
  • Using drugs is always risky: no amount or moment is safe 

Help and Resources

health-care professional for support and advice.

To get help or more information, contact one of the following resources:

  • The health-care professional monitoring your pregnancy. You can find the contact info for your family medicine clinic in the Finding a Resource section
  • Your integrated health and social services centre (CISSS) or your integrated university health and social services centre (CIUSSS). To find contact information, go to Finding a Resource
  • Drugs: Help and referral This link opens a new window.: 1 800 265-2626
  • S.O.S. Grossesse This link opens a new window. (pregnancy helpline – website in French only): 1 877 662-9666

Last update: May 13, 2016 10:07 AM

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