The CDC recognizes January as National Birth Defects Awareness Month. Some causes of birth defects are genetics, infection, radiation, or drug exposure, or there might be no known reason. This article will look at the effect of substances on babies in utero. Any substances the mother uses will pass through the woman’s bloodstream through the umbilical cord to the baby, causing potential problems for the fetus. Consider the health problems substances can have on the adult body. Then imagine the relatively tiny size of the baby and how the effects multiply in a child under 10 pounds.


Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and other disabilities. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use while trying to get and during pregnancy. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. Drinking any alcohol amount at any time during pregnancy can cause a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities for the child. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASDs have a wide range of effects depending on how much alcohol the mother consumed and when during the pregnancy she drank.


The dangers of smoking cigarettes during pregnancy include preterm birth, small size, birth defects including cleft lip or cleft palate, and infant death. For a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby. 


Marijuana use during pregnancy may be linked to lower birth weight in infants. There is no known safe level of marijuana use during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should not use marijuana, even in states where marijuana is legal. The research is complicated because many pregnant women who used marijuana also used alcohol and/or cigarettes during pregnancy. Determining what potential problems were marijuana-related has been difficult.


Opioid use disorders during pregnancy have been linked with preterm birthstillbirthmaternal mortality, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a group of withdrawal symptoms that most commonly occurs in newborns after exposure to opioids during pregnancy. 

For more information on how substance use can complicate pregnancy, contact Sieda Behavioral Health and Treatment Services Prevention staff at 641-683-6747.