This page focuses on alcohol and illegal drugs in pregnancy. We have more information here about legal medications in pregnancy, such prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.
Should I drink alcohol if I am trying to get pregnant?
The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that you don’t drink any alcohol if you are trying to get pregnant (conceive).
There is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant. Because you may not know you are pregnant for the first few weeks after conceiving, the safest thing to do is not drink any alcohol while you are trying for a baby.
Alcohol and your fertility
It may be more difficult for you to get pregnant if you (or your baby’s other biological parent) drink heavily.
For women and birthing people, heavy drinking may also contribute to period problems, such as heavy, irregular or no periods. This can make it more difficult to get pregnant because you may not ovulate regularly.
Heavy drinking means drinking more than 14 units a week regularly. NHS has more information on alcohol units.
Alcohol and men’s fertility
In men, drinking too much alcohol can cause:
- loss of interest in sex
- problems with having an erection
- less testosterone (a hormone that is important for conception)
- problems with the amount of sperm
- problems with the quality of sperm.
- Stopping or cutting right back on alcohol can improve your fertility and overall health.
Find out more about how to improve male fertility.
Alcohol in pregnancy
If you drink alcohol during pregnancy, some alcohol will pass through the placenta to your baby. This can harm the baby because their liver has not developed properly yet, and their body can’t process the alcohol. The more you drink the greater the risk of harm to your baby.
Drinking heavily in pregnancy can increase the risk of:
- fetal growth restriction
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
- learning difficulties and behavioural problems in later life for the baby.
Your baby’s health and development will improve if you cut down or stop drinking altogether. Stopping drinking at any point during pregnancy will help. But sometimes the effects of heavy drinking cannot be reversed.
I have been drinking alcohol but think I am pregnant. What do I do?
Try not to worry. The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low with small amounts of alcohol. The important thing is to stop drinking now.
If you find it difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink, you may be ‘dependent’ on alcohol, which means you might feel you need it.
If you are worried you might be dependent on alcohol, ask yourself the following questions.
- Do I often feel the need to have a drink?
- Have I got into trouble because of my drinking?
- Have other people warned me about how much I am drinking?
- Do I think my drinking is causing me problems?
Talk to your doctor or midwife if you are worried about alcohol use during pregnancy, especially if you are worried you cannot stop. Remember they are there to support you and not judge you, so try to be honest about your drinking habits.
You can also get confidential help and support from local alcohol support services. See below for organisations that can help.
Illegal and recreational drugs and your fertility
Using drugs can harm your ability to get pregnant. For example, heavy marijuana use can cause hormone changes, which can affect your menstrual cycle and ovulation.
Illegal and recreational drugs and male fertility
In men, cannabis can cause:
- low testosterone
- problems with the quality of sperm.
Using cocaine can cause:
- less enjoyment of sex
- difficulty having erections and sex
- being less able to produce sperm.
Drugs and pregnancy
Using illegal or street drugs during pregnancy, including cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, can have a potentially serious effect on your unborn baby.
- marijuana may cause childhood brain development problems
- cocaine may cause low birth weight, premature birth and stillbirth
- heroin and other opiates may cause miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth.
If you take any illegal drugs the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is stop.
Some people may be able to stop taking drugs without help. Others may find it more difficult because of other problems, such as mental health issues or lack of family support.
It is important that you get advice and support if you are finding it difficult to stop taking illegal drugs and you want to start trying for a baby.
It is best to keep using contraception until you have stopped using drugs. Your GP can give you advice about this if you need it.
Prescription or over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies
Some prescribed medication or over-the-counter medications may not be suitable to take in pregnancy. Speak to your pharmacist, GP or specialist and tell them you want to get pregnant before taking anything new.
However, do not stop taking any prescribed medication before speaking to your doctor.
Do not take any herbal remedies.
More information and support
Drinkaware provides independent alcohol advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking.
Drinkline – the national alcohol helpline. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm)
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group; its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups
NHS has details of alcohol support services in England.
FRANK offers confidential information advice about drugs through their website, telephone helpful and online live chat service.
With You is a charity that offers free, confidential support to people in England and Scotland who have issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health
NHS has more information about getting help for drug addiction.