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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Pregnant? Congratulations!

Pregnant? Congratulations!

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., April 7, 2010
By Dorie Klein, D.Crim.

Have you wondered whether it's OK to drink a little when you are pregnant? Or what to do about smoking, or what kind of drugs you can use? Have you heard things that are contradictory and frightening?

The short answer is that it's best not to drink any alcohol while pregnant. Heavy prenatal drinking has long been linked to children's serious mental developmental problems. And even moderate drinking can trigger subtle effects.

Tobacco is also known to have potentially harmful consequences, including premature births and low birth weight newborns.

Different prescription and street drugs—like painkillers, marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines—can complicate childbirth and the infant's well being.

The only safe drugs to use during your pregnancy are those approved by your health care provider. Be honest when talking with your doctor or clinic staff so they know what problems to look for, and can give you the best medical advice.

If you've already had a lot to drink or smoke since becoming pregnant, or if you've been using drugs without medical supervision, it's not too late—you can change now.

Quitting successfully means

  • setting daily goals for cutting use
  • getting encouragement from people who support your goals
  • avoiding tempting situations.

It also means keeping busy by:

  • exercising (with doctor's permission)
  • enjoying healthy food
  • doing fun activities that don't remind you of—or involve people using—alcohol or drugs.

Sometimes it's more complicated. Many women become dependent on alcohol or other drugs because of anxiety, depression, or physical and/or mental abuse. Your health care provider can help you decide whether you need medication or a referral to a therapist.

If you live with someone with alcohol or drug problems, ask him or her to support your having a healthy pregnancy and consider making changes together.

If you smoke, talk with a health care provider before trying nicotine gum or patches or bupropion (Zyban), as they may affect the fetus.

If you use opiates or painkillers, talk with a health care provider before trying to stop or cut down, since withdrawal can affect the fetus, and there may be safer prescription alternatives.

There are many treatment options. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.

  • See if your medical group, like Kaiser, has specialized prenatal counselors.
  • If you don't have health insurance and can't afford private treatment, call 211 or go to for low-cost or free services.
  • For help getting free prenatal care, call 925-313-6254.
  • For help with partner violence, call STAND!, 925-888-215-5555
  • Consider talking with your minister or spiritual advisor.
  • Check out 12-step meetings: call Alcohol Anonymous 925-939-4155; Narcotics Anonymous: 925-685-HELP; or LifeRing (secular alternative) 1-800-811-4142.
  • For what to expect if you're pregnant and using substances, visit

Whatever else you do, get and continue your prenatal health care by a doctor or nurse practitioner. This can make a big difference to your and your baby's health. And it won't put you at greater risk for problems with child welfare or the law compared to getting no prenatal care.

For your and your baby's sake, make quitting alcohol and other drugs your priority and you will find a way that works for you.

Ms. Klein is a consultant with Contra Costa Health Services who has conducted evaluations and worked on public policy to address perinatal substance use.

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