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Taking drugs in pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, taking drugs can seriously affect you and your baby’s health. Sometimes this can be lifelong.

Having a baby can be a positive reason to make changes to your life.

The effect on your baby

Taking drugs (including tobacco and alcohol) when you’re pregnant, even in small quantities, can put your baby’s health at serious risk. It increases the risk they’ll be stillborn or will die in the first few weeks and months of life.

These are difficult things to imagine happening but are real risks if you take drugs.

Your baby’s also more likely to:

  • be born early
  • be underweight
  • have feeding and breathing problems
  • get infections
  • have problems with their development and growth

These can all have life long consequences.

More about smoking in pregnancy and drinking alcohol in pregnancy

Prescribed medicines

You should also speak to your GP, midwife or a drug support service if you’re regularly taking prescribed medicines. Stopping your medication suddenly could be harmful for you and your baby.

More about medicines in pregnancy

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)

Some prescribed or illegal drugs that can cause physical dependency can pass through the placenta and be absorbed by your baby.

Following delivery your baby may show signs of physical withdrawal known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

Some of these babies may need specialist care after birth and medical treatment to help them withdraw.

If you have any questions about NAS you should speak to your midwife.

Getting support

If you’re taking drugs and you want to stop or cut down, you can get help and support from your midwife and your local drug support service.

If you’re taking any drugs, talk to your midwife or GP as soon as you can after finding out you’re pregnant.

They can help you understand the risks and support you to cut down or stop taking drugs.

Sometimes taking drugs can be a response to other problems in your life, including money worries or mental health problems. Getting help with other issues may make it easier to address drug use.

Read more about the support to available to help with the cost of living

Read advice about dealing with low mood, anxiety, phobias and stress

Drug support services

Support services are there to help you. They’re private and confidential and the staff who work there will listen to you and support you without judging you.

If you’re already being supported by a specialist drug support service, tell them that you’re pregnant as soon as you know.

Find a drug support service in your area

If someone close to you is taking drugs

Your partner, your baby’s dad or someone close to you might be the one taking drugs. That can be worrying and make the future feel uncertain, stressful and challenging.

Your partner or anyone close to you can also get direct support.

Talk to your midwife or GP if you’re worried about someone or think they need help.

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD) can help you understand more about substance use in the family, provide ways to stay safe, and offer advice and support on how to keep others in your household well.

You can contact SFAD by:

  • email helpline@sfad.org.uk
  • phone 08080 101011, Monday to Friday, 9am to 11pm (a call-back service is available on weekends)

Further information, other languages and alternative formats

Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.

If you need a different language or format, please contact phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

Last updated:
14 December 2023

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