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Smoking, alcohol and drug use during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Smoking, taking drugs and consuming alcohol during pregnancy can harm your developing baby. If you are pregnant, planning to be pregnant, or breastfeeding, we strongly recommend that you quit all alcohol and recreational drug use. 

What are the effects of smoking tobacco or cannabis during pregnancy?

Pregnant women, who smoke tobacco and/or cannabis, expose their unborn baby to these harmful substances.

This exposure increases the risks of:

  • miscarriage
  • problems with the placenta
  • fetal growth restriction
  • premature birth
  • childhood breathing illnesses.

Babies who have been regularly exposed to tobacco and/or cannabis use during pregnancy may have withdrawal-type symptoms after birth, such as an exaggerated startle reflex and disrupted sleep patterns.

Research shows that children who have been exposed to cannabis in pregnancy have an increased risk of effects on their memory, reasoning and brain function; have behaviour and attention problems, and childhood depression.

What are the effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy?

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy it crosses the placenta to your baby. Alcohol can cause birth abnormalities, is dangerous to your unborn baby, and can damage their developing brain.

Ongoing alcohol use may result in different kinds of harmful effects to your unborn baby including

  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) including:
  • increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth
  • a smaller than expected baby weight at birth
  • continued negative effects throughout childhood
  • learning difficulties, and behavioural and socialisation problems.

Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy can prevent these effects occurring.

Some babies exposed to heavy alcohol use throughout pregnancy may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms and require supportive care and treatment after birth.

If your doctor or midwife has concerns regarding your baby’s health, they will refer your baby to a paediatrician (baby doctor). Child health nurses are available in the community to talk to you about any concerns you may have regarding your baby’s growth and development.

What are the effects of amphetamine use during pregnancy?

Amphetamine type stimulant drugs are considered unsafe to use in pregnancy. The use of these drugs can increase your chance of infection which could cause serious heart and lung problems for you.   

The consequences of using these drugs during pregnancy include:

  • miscarriage 
  • limited oxygen and nutrient supply to your unborn baby
  • reduced growth and head circumference
  • placental abruption (bleeding from your placenta)
  • premature birth
  • an increased risk of abnormalities (i.e. heart abnormalities).
  • behavioural and learning difficulties in children who were exposed during pregnancy.

These drugs may stress your unborn baby’s nervous system and alter their brain structure and development. Newborn babies can also experience symptoms of withdrawal with these types of drugs including sleep disturbances and feeding problems.

What are the effects on my baby if I take drugs or alcohol use while breastfeeding?

All medications, substances and alcohol enter breast milk to some extent. Alcohol, cannabis and amphetamine consumption during breastfeeding can cause harmful consequences to:

  • your breast milk supply 
  • your baby’s behaviour 
  • the physical and mental development of your baby. 

The benefits of breastfeeding your baby outweigh the potential risks. However, if you are breastfeeding while taking any of these substances, the long-term effects to your baby are unknown. We suggest speaking to your doctor about breastfeeding your baby if you continue to consume medications, drugs or alcohol.

How can I keep my baby safe?

It is unwise to be intoxicated while caring for, or handling your baby as they could be accidentally injured by the intoxicated person.

If you have been taking drugs, or drinking alcohol, always make sure there is a trusted adult who is not affected by alcohol or drugs that is available to care for your baby.

Can my baby sleep with me?

Do not sleep with your baby in bed with you if you have been drinking alcohol, smoking or using drugs. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS] is increased if parents are affected by these substances; and/or if sleeping baby safely recommendations are not followed.  

For information and recommendations about how to sleep your baby safely, refer to Mater Mothers’ patient information brochure: Sleeping babies safely

CHAMP Clinic

What is CHAMP Clinic?

Continuity of care by
Health Professionals attending
Alcohol and drug problems and meeting
Mother’s needs for
Positive family outcomes

Mater Mothers’ Hospital’s CHAMP Clinic provides antenatal care for pregnant women who:

  • are unable to stop using recreational drugs (including alcohol)
  • recently quit recreational drug use and have ongoing risk factors
  • are drug dependent (or habitual users)
  • are on opioid replacement therapies
  • are prescribed regular opioid analgesia.

What happens at CHAMP Clinic

CHAMP Clinic is located in Mater Mothers' Hospital's Antenatal Clinic and offers:

  • an environment of acceptance
  • antenatal check-ups with a midwife
  • preparation for birth
  • access to specialist doctors when needed
  • health education
  • alcohol and drug use interventions
  • relapse prevention and support
  • social worker support
  • referral to other health or support services
  • parenting information and advice
  • early discharge planning.

Contact us

For an appointment or to find out more about this Service contact the CHAMP Coordinator: 

Telephone: 07 3163 2417
Email: champ@mater.org.au


  1. Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, Queensland Health, 2019.
  2. Chang L, cloak C, Jiang CS, Farnham S, Tokeshi B, Buchthal S, Hedemark B, Smith LM, Ernst T. Altered neurometabolites and motor integration in children exposed to methamphetamine in utero. Neuroimage. 2009;48(2):391-7.
  3. Clinical guidelines for the management of substance use during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, 2014, New South Wales ministry of health.
  4. Huizink AC, Mulder EJH. Maternal smoking, drinking or cannabis use during pregnancy and neurobehavioural and cognitive functioning in human offspring. Neurosc Behav Rev 2006; 30: 24-41
  5. Leech SL, Larkby CA, Day R, Day NL. Predictors and correlates of high levels of depression and anxiety symptoms among children at age 10. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2006;45(2):223-230.
  6. Lu LH, Johnson A, O’Hare ED, Bookheimer SY, Smith LM, O’Connor MJ, and Sowell ER. Effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure on verbal memory revealed with functional magnetic resonance imaging. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2009;30(3):185-92.
  7. Neonatal abstinence syndrome: Queensland clinical guidelines – Qld Health (2010) – last updated 2019.
  8. Salisbury AL, Ponder KL, Padbury JF, Lester BM. Fetal effects of psychoactive drugs. Clin Perinatal. 2009;36(3):595-619.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430029
Last modified 10/7/2020.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 30/6/2020
For further translated health information, you can visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au/ supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that offers a range of patient information in multiple languages.
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