Alcohol- and other drug-related birth defects

During pregnancy your growing baby depends on you to keep him healthy. That’s why it’s important that you stay away from harmful substances, like alcohol and street drugs. These substances can pass directly through the umbilical cord to your baby, hurting him before he’s even born.

Each year in May the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (also called NCADD) and its partners come together to raise awareness about alcohol and other drug-related birth defects. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or how the body functions.

Birth defects are a major cause of child death and lifelong disability. In the United States, about 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year. Using alcohol and street drugs can also cause conditions like:

  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). This is a group of conditions caused when a baby is exposed to alcohol in the womb during pregnancy. Children with FASDs may have a range of problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. These are problems with how the brain works that can cause a person to have trouble in learning, communicating, taking care of himself or getting along with others. They also may have problems or delays in physical development.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome  (also called NAS). NAS is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from certain drugs he’s exposed to in the womb before birth. NAS is most often caused when a woman takes drugs called opioids during pregnancy.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called CDC), about 11.5 percent of pregnant women reported drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and 3.9 percent  reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. The CDC defines binge drinking as having four or more drinks at any one time. In another report, the CDC says that the number of pregnant women with opioid use disorder at the time of their baby’s birth quadrupled (is four times greater) from 1999 to 2014.

Prevention is key

Alcohol and street drugs can cause problems for your baby at any time in pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant. If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, don’t drink alcohol or use street drugs. When you do get pregnant, get regular prenatal care (medical care you get during pregnancy). If you need help to stop using these drugs or alcohol, here’s what you can do: