Should I worry if I drank or smoked before I knew I was pregnant?

You'll likely cut back on alcohol, kiss cigs goodbye and quit any naughty drug-taking once you're pregnant. But what happens if you don't know you're expecting, and you've been doing one or all of the above?

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Unless you’re actively trying to get pregnant (and following ‘boost your fertility’ guidance to a T), chances are you’re just living your life as normal before that positive test pops up.

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So, the joyous news can also bring on a world of anxiety – if you’ve been enjoying your gin or your wine, regular cigarettes or have even taken drugs. 

It’s natural to worry that these indulgences might’ve had a negative effect on your unborn baby. Here, we want to set the record straight, and give you a little bit of reassurance…

Here’s everything you need to know about drinking, smoking or doing drugs before finding out you’re pregnant…

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The MOST important thing to remember is that you can’t turn back the clock. Giving yourself a hard time and stressing won’t do you or your baby any good. Go easy on yourself ❤️

Don’t forget that you’re not alone in this, either. Our resident GP, Dr Philippa Kaye, tells us that she gets newly pregnant patients worried about these sorts of things all the time.

“This comes up quite a lot actually,” she says. Meaning that, despite the fact you probably feel pretty guilty, you’re not being judged by your doc.

For those in the very early stages of pregnancy, Dr Kaye reminds us: “We date pregnancies from the 1st day of your last period, meaning that by the time your period is late (if you have a 4 week cycle) and you have a positive pregnancy test, you are counted as 4 weeks pregnant.

“But the 1st 2 weeks of those you haven’t even ovulated, then once you ovulate and conceive – when the sperm joins with the egg – it is about another week until implantation when it implants into the womb. So for much of those 1st few weeks, you haven’t even ovulated!”

“Of course we would like the ideal environment for conception, with no alcohol or smoking, but that isn’t the reality often.

“Once you do know, if you are able to make changes such as stopping smoking (ask for help!!!) then it would be great for both your and your baby’s health.”

Dr Kaye also says the important thing, especially if you’re further along in the pregnancy before finding out, is to tell your docs about your drinking/smoking/drug-taking habits, so they can make sure everything’s OK. 

“I think the important thing if you have been drinking/smoking/using drugs and are a few months along is to tell your antenatal team, so that if there is a potential issue then we can look for it and help if possible.”

I was drinking before I knew I was pregnant 

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Whether you’ve been binge drinking or just enjoying a few wines here and there, the best thing to do is not to worry excessively about it.

Rest assured, there is some research to suggest that a few (non-excessive) drinking sessions are not going to affect the baby in the long run. 

Some women find that they get more unexpectedly sick after a few drinks anyway, even when they don’t know they are pregnant, and this inadvertently curtails their drinking.

If you’ve had a wild night out, remind yourself that you didn’t know you were pregnant, that you wouldn’t have binged if you had, and place your focus on a healthy lifestyle going forward.

Can I still drink a bit now I know I’m pregnant?

The official guidance on alcohol during pregnancy is, to be honest, a bit rubbish and confusing.

In a nutshell: experts and health organisations would prefer you didn’t drink at all, but say if you ARE gonna drink, then don’t exceed 1 – 2 units of alcohol per week.

Alcohol gets carried through the blood stream, and the foetus takes all its nutrition directly from the mother’s blood. So, continued drinking through pregnancy can have a negative effect on the baby.

The odd drink of wine or lower alcohol beer won’t be a worry, but continued heavy drinking on a regular basis has been shown to affect a baby’s brain and physical development.

Alcohol and pregnancy – everything you need to know

I smoked before I knew I was pregnant

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Smoking before pregnancy does not affect your unborn baby, and if you have been smoking up until now, it’s best not to dwell on the past but to work hard on giving up, instead. 

Of course, giving up permanently is the best course of action, as smoking around a young baby does increase the risk of SIDS (cot death). Try to give up until the birth, at least.

Remember that smoking during the early months does not appear to be as harmful as it is beyond the 4-month mark, so quitting as soon as you know you are pregnant is the best and safest course of action.

Mind, miscarriage, low-birth-weight babies and longer term health issues for your baby, are some of the key dangers from continued smoking.

So, it really is best to give up as soon as you can. Don’t forget: there’s support to help you quit available on the NHS website.

Smoking and pregnancy – everything you need to know

I took drugs before I knew I was pregnant

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You’re probably feeling especially guilt-ridden if you’ve taken illegal drugs while pregnant, before you knew you were expecting.

Again, there’s not much you can do about it now, so please don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, make sure you confide in your GP, so they’re fully aware of everything that you’ve taken.

2 very common drugs, cocaine and marijuana, do cross the placenta, so can have an effect on your baby. In early pregnancy, there is less of a worry, but any continued use can cause negative health effects.

We’ve got a full guide to drugs and how they affect your baby right here. We’d definitely recommend giving it a read…

The effects of illegal drugs on your unborn baby – drug by drug

The bottom line

Remember: you’re only human. None of us are perfect. You didn’t know you were pregnant, and we bet you’d have done things differently if you had. 

Punishing yourself or worrying loads will only make it harder to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle for you and your unborn little one.

Be kind to yourself, especially if you’re now fighting an addiction to nicotine or trying to stay clean for the sake of your baby. It’s not easy, so well done you, and keep up the good work.

💛

Images: Getty Images

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