Using drugs (both legal and illegal) while you are pregnant puts your baby at BIOLOGICAL risk for future behavioral and developmental problems.

If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, help prevent birth defects by NOT using alcohol, drugs or tobacco.

If you or someone you know is pregnant and drinking or using drugs, there is help available. Quitting now increases the baby’s chances of being born healthy.

How Substances Harm the Developing Fetus


Tobacco is the leading cause of low birth weight in babies, increasing the risk of developmental problems. Long-term effects include cognitive and behavioral effects that persist into childhood. If you need help quitting smoking, call the Utah Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-877-629-1585 in Spanish) or visit


According to the Utah Pregnancy RiskLine, there is no increased risk for birth defects with ANY antidepressant medications. A few years ago there were reports of heart defects with Paxil.  New research on Paxil and pregnancy hasn’t shown an increased risk.

There can be some “discontinuation side-effects” for newborns when antidepressants are used during pregnancy.  Babies can be sleepy or stimulated (wide-awake) and can have some jitteriness.  These side-effects are not serious for the infant and don’t last very long.

With most antidepressants, very little of the drug gets into the breast milk. Most babies do fine when mom takes an antidepressant while breast feeding.

Call MotherToBaby at 1-800-222-2229 and your doctor if you have any questions. Do NOT stop taking your medication until you speak with your health care provider.


Alcohol is the only substance that causes congenital defects. Fetal growth is inhibited and children can be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, resulting in growth problems and behavioral problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most preventable birth defect.

Alcohol can cause damage in the brain of children and adolescents as well. The brain goes through a lot of changes during adolescence [ages 12-21] and alcohol can seriously damage long-and short-term growth – including negative effects to memory and impulse control mechanisms.

Take care of your children by setting clear rules and expectations about NO underage drinking. Underage drinking begins as early as 4th grade. In one study, 1 in 10 fourth graders have had more than a sip of alcohol.

If you have other questions about the risks to your baby, contact MotherToBaby: 801-328-2229 or 1-800-822-2229 (Spanish speakers available) or visit MotherToBaby

Heroin and other opiates

No birth defects have been noted in the research, but infants born with opiates in their system require more time in the hospital to help them fet off the drug. Long-term effects on the infant and child are not noted unless raised in a home in which drugs are used regularly.


The vast majority of infants who tested positive for cocaine were not premature and they did not experience cocaine withdrawal syndrome. Over time, these children had a normal IQ and only some function problems although low family income levels tended to be the reason why some children performed more poorly than others.


Effects are similar to cocaine with one significant difference – methamphetamine kills neurons. A long-term study is being conducted throughout the United States.

If you are concerned about your drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, there are people who can help you. It’s confidential and easy to access. Call your county substance abuse treatment provider by looking them up under County Services in the White Pages.


Parents Empowered

Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health