A baby holding onto a hand
By Katherine Lyons, MD

Dangers of drinking, smoking, vaping while pregnant

Drinking, vaping, smoking and marijuana use are common habits. Many women have questions about these habits before or during pregnancy. Recreational marijuana use is close to becoming legal in New Mexico and already is in Colorado

Most people know that drinking alcohol, using marijuana and smoking or vaping are unhealthy habits. Still, many adults feel that these habits are socially acceptable, in moderation.  

When you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it's a different story. If you have unsafe health habits, your baby does not do as well.

Alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and the chemicals in vape cartridges or pods can harm your baby during and after pregnancy. If you are pregnant or want to have a baby, it's important to kick these habits for good.

Quitting can be tough, especially if the habit has become an addiction. But quitting is worth it for your health and your baby's health. If you need help, we are here for you. UNM Hospital offers private, respectful support for pregnant patients.

There is a lot of misinformation online about substance use in pregnancy. So, we've put together a list of how certain drugs can harm your pregnancy, along with some resources you can use when you are ready to quit.

Get the Help You Need

We can help you overcome your addiction. Begin by calling 505-463-8293 to schedule an appointment today

When you drink alcohol, it passes through the placenta and umbilical cord to your baby. A developing baby breaks down alcohol more slowly than an adult. The baby's blood alcohol level rises faster than yours and stays high longer.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. Drinking can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy can cause lifelong health problems, including:

  • Miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Low birthweight
  • Facial deformities: small head, wide-set eyes, thin lips
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain damage
  • Heart defects
  • Vision and hearing loss

Alcohol also can show up in breastmilk. One drink once in a while is unlikely to harm a breastfed baby. It's a good idea to wait two or more hours after a drink before breastfeeding. Alcohol in higher amounts can damage a baby’s growth and cause sleep problems. Drinking can also impair your ability to care for the baby.

You may have friends who drank a little during pregnancy and have healthy babies. Every pregnancy is different. The best plan is to not drink while you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

More than half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. If you drank before you knew you were pregnant, try not to panic. Talk with your doctor or midwife about the risks to your pregnancy.



Smoking increases your risk of many types of cancer and lung diseases. Smoking can also make it tougher to get pregnant.

Tobacco contains the highly addictive substance nicotine, which can damage a baby’s developing brain, heart, lungs, and other organs.

Smoking increases the risk of pregnancy complications, including:

  • Miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Ectopic pregnancy, when the egg implants outside the uterus
  • Problems with the placenta, such as placenta previa (low in the uterus) or placenta abruption (separates from the uterus)
  • Premature birth
  • Low birthweight

Babies who are frequently exposed to smoke during or after pregnancy can face many health problems. They are at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), coughs and colds, asthma, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Quitting smoking will improve your health and the baby’s health over the long term.


Many people think vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes. But it's not safe for you or your pregnancy.

Regular cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic. E-cigarettes may have less, but not zero. And many contain nicotine, an addictive substance that can cause cancer. Nicotine is also found in cigarettes.

If you vape during pregnancy, your baby is also exposed to these chemicals. Much like secondhand smoke, your baby may be exposed to secondhand chemicals when you are near someone who is vaping.


  • Talk with your family medicine or maternity care provider for help to quit smoking. Find a doctor.
  • New Mexico Department of Health: Free program to help you quit (English and Spanish). Learn more.
  • American Lung Association: The Freedom From Smoking program is proven to work. Join now.
  • National Tobacco Helpline: Call 800-QUIT-NOW.
  • National Cancer Institute: Personalized plans to help you quit. Create your plan.

Pregnant and breastfeeding patients should not use marijuana for fun or medical reasons, which includes treatment of morning sickness. Talk with your doctor about nausea treatments that are safe during pregnancy.

Smoking, vaping, eating edibles, or using CBD products with THC is not recommend during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Chemicals in these products can pass through you to the baby.

Some research has shown that using marijuana while you are pregnant can lead to:

  • Stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Low birthweight
  • Higher rates of difficulty with speech and attention problems

The stigma around marijuana use has changed a lot over the years. Many states are legalizing marijuana for personal use—including New Mexico, where retail sales may begin in April 2022.

There is not enough good data to tell us whether marijuana use is safe in pregnancy. The best bet is not to use it during pregnancy, around the baby or while breastfeeding.

A few more thoughts

Ideally you should quit drinking, smoking, or vaping before you become pregnant. Stopping during pregnancy is good for you and the baby. Giving up any habit can be difficult. Many people do it, and you can, too.

You are not alone. We are here for you. At UNM Women's Health, you will get the respectful care you deserve. Talk with your provider about groups or treatment options that can give you and your baby a healthy start.

To find out whether you or a loved one might benefit from Ob/Gyn care
Categories: Women's Health