By Neus Ferrando Gilabert BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 09/04/2015

Early sexual intercourse combined with early drug abuse and drinking in teens and youngsters have significant repercussions on pregnancy. The exposure to legal (alcohol and tobacco) and illegal drugs (cocaine, narcotics, and opiates) causes harmful effects on fetal development.

According to experts, alcohol is more damaging to the newborn than tobacco.

The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.

Effects of alcohol

Between 50-80% of children of alcoholic mothers have the following alterations: intrauterine growth retardation, microcephaly, short and turned-up nose, tight parpebral fissure, maxillary hypoplasia, and thin upper lip. Moreover, it is connected with anomalies in the limbs and spine, and with congenital heart defects.

The fetal brain is also severely affected, since it is not as developed as a normal one. The degree of damage may depend on the stage of pregnancy. However, if the alteration takes place in a critical developmental stage, the foetus will suffer serious malformations. Intellectual disabilities are present in 80-90% of the cases; children born under these circumstances have diminished brain convolutions and cerebral atrophy. Behavioral problems can also be observed, such as irritability in the lactant, hyperactivity in childhood, and psychosocial disorders during adulthood.

The effects differ depending on the trimester. The exposure to alcohol during the first trimester is associated with facial and ocular somatic anomalies. During the second and third semester, alcohol abuse is linked to hampered brain development, neurobehavioral alterations, and growth delay.

Effects of tobacco

Nearly 18% of women in developed countries smoke, whereas just 8% of women from developing countries smoke. Unfortunately, many of them smoke while pregnant. Nicotine and carbon monoxide are presumed to have negative effects on fetal development as they might reduce the amount of oxygen the baby gets. Children born from women who smoke weight on average 200 gr less.

Smoking doubles the risk of low birth weight. Low weight at birth may be a consequence of intrauterine underdevelopment, preterm delivery, or both.

Women who smoke during pregnancy also have twice the risk of developing complications in the placenta. One of the main complications is the growth of the placenta in the lower uterine segment, partially or completely covering the opening of the cervix. That problem is known as placenta previa. Other condition is the separation of the placenta from the uterine lining, known as placental abruption.

There also cases of preterm rupture of membranes in pregnant women who smoke. That may cause a preterm delivery.

The exposure to tobacco smoke in non-smoking women also has influence in the likelihood of delivering an underweight baby. Once the child is born, the exposure to the smoke of cigarettes may cause complications such as sudden infant death syndrome, bronchitis, pneumonia, or increase the risk of developing ashtma.

Women who wish to be on motherhood should be aware of the effects of these substances to avoid being exposed to them and therefore prevent the newborn from suffering any harm or damage.

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Authors and contributors

 Neus Ferrando Gilabert
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH). Experience managing Embryology and Andrology Labs at Centro Médico Manzanera (Logroño, Spain). More information
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2 comments

    1. gabriel_0808

      Dear Dr,

      My girlfriend and I are still very young, but we have our maternal instinct broadly developed so it’s a matter of time that we plan to have a baby. But you see, the problem is that we are heavy smokers, especially she. Obviously, we know it would be detrimental for our baby, so we’d quit smoking. But I don’t know if the effects of being heavy smokers this whole time would remain still in our bodies and would affect our baby anyway.

      Could you help me, please?

      Thanks,

      Gabriel

      • Sandra FernándezBA, MA

        Dear Gabriel,

        If she quits smoking while pregnant, in principle there’s no reason why it should have an impact on the development of the baby. However, if she’s been a very heavy smoker for years, her general state of health may be damaged, which could have an impact on pregnancy. Ask your doctor anyway.

        For any further details, you can consult our Forum about “Smoking during pregnancy”: http://www.invitra.com/forums/topic/smoking-during-pregnancy/