Recreational drugs can harm your unborn baby and there is lots of support to help you stop taking them.
Telling health professionals about drug use can be really difficult. Fear of their reaction, worry about the involvement of social services, anxiety and guilt about the impact of drugs on the baby can make it easier to avoid thinking about it at all. But professionals are there to help and support you, not judge, and their support will help you quit.
Drug use and mental illness
Getting help as early as possible gives you a better chance of giving up drugs and getting successful treatment for your mental illness.
Many women with mental illness who use drugs also experience domestic abuse. If someone at home shows controlling or abusive behaviour towards you, speak to a health professional or a domestic abuse advocate or advisor.
Should I stop taking drugs before I get pregnant?
Yes. If you take any recreational drugs the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is stop.
Using drugs, such as cannabis, synthetic cannabis (known as spice), cocaine and other drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamines can cause fertility problems. This means that if you or your partner take these drugs, you may find it harder to get pregnant.
But some women may get pregnant very quickly, so it’s best to keep using contraception until you have stopped using drugs. Your doctor can give you advice about this if you need it.
It’s important to get advice and support before you start trying to give up drugs such as heroin or benzodiazepines. Your GP can refer you to a specialist service or you can find details of other organisations that can help you at the bottom of this page.
What support can I get?
There is lots of support available to help you. Talk to your GP or psychiatrist about what drugs you’re taking, how often and how you feel about this.
If you’re pregnant, you should be offered a referral to a specialist midwife or doctor who can give you advice and offer you regular appointments. If you don’t want to do this, they will still help you to cut down on drugs. They will also be able to tell you about local services that can help.
They will talk with you about your antenatal care, any extra appointments or scans that may be needed, as well as any extra support you and your baby may need after the birth. Health professionals will work together with you to make sure your baby is safe and well when they’re born. You will be invited to any meetings that are held to talk about your baby’s wellbeing.
You can talk about your feelings and worries and your healthcare team will work with you to help you have as healthy a pregnancy as possible.
They can give you information on good oral hygiene, eating healthily and giving up alcohol and smoking. All of these things are important for reducing the likelihood of pregnancy problems. You can also ask for text message reminders and other practical help with getting to your appointments, such as transport.
If you’re pregnant and are taking opioids, your doctor may refer you to a team who specialise in mental health and substance misuse during pregnancy. They can help you to safely stop using drugs and will continue to support you afterwards.
After the birth
After you've had your baby, your healthcare team will offer you talking therapies and support. If you stopped using drugs during pregnancy but start again after your baby is born, there is a chance you could take too much by accident. Your healthcare team can talk about this with you and help you avoid this happening.
If you need practical help with housing or education for other children, you can ask your healthcare team to refer you to your local early help services.
If you or your healthcare team feel you need more support with looking after your baby, you or they can ask for a referral to social services. Health professionals would always speak to you about this first, unless they’re worried about your baby’s safety. This doesn’t mean that your baby will be taken away from you. The social worker’s role involves making sure you have the support you need to help you look after your baby.
How do drugs affect a baby?
Taking recreational drugs during pregnancy increases the chance of your baby’s growth being affected and of premature birth. Your healthcare team will help you to give up, either by prescribing other drugs, such as methadone, or by helping you stop completely.
Will I be able to breastfeed?
Some drugs cross into the breastmilk. If you use cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamines or a high dose of benzodiazepines talk to your doctor about the risks of breastfeeding. If you’re using other drugs, you may be able to breastfeed. Your perinatal mental health team can give you advice on breastfeeding if you’re using drugs or alcohol.
Drugs, men and fertility
Drug-taking causes fertility problems in men. Cannabis, for example, can cause:
- low testosterone
- problems with the quality of sperm
- less enjoyment of sex
- difficulty having erections and sex
- being less able to produce sperm.
More information and support
Adfam works to improve life for families affected by drugs or alcohol.
- Hunt GE et al. (2019) Psychosocial interventions for people with both severe mental illness and substance misuse. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 12. Art. No.: CD001088. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001088.pub4.
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2019) Coexisting severe mental illness and substance misuse Quality standard [QS188]. www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs18
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2014, updated 2020) Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. Clinical guideline [CG192].
- Clinical Guidelines on Drug Misuse and Dependence Update 2017 Independent Expert Working Group (2017) Drug misuse and dependence: UK guidelines on clinical management. London: Department of Health https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/673978/clinical_guidelines_2017.pdf
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2010) Pregnancy and complex social factors: a model for service provision for pregnant women with complex social factors. Clinical guideline [CG110]
- Mactier H et al. (2019) NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde paediatric guidelines:Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) www.clinicalguidelines.scot.nhs.uk/ggc-paediatric-guidelines/ggc-guidelines/neonatology/neonatal-abstinence-syndrome-nas/
- Clinical Guidelines on Drug Misuse and Dependence Update 2017 Independent Expert Working Group (2017) Drug misuse and dependence: UK guidelines on clinical management. London: Department of Health. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/673978/clinical_guidelines_2017.pdf
Symptoms and management of ADHD or autism (ASD) when planning a pregnancy
Healthy food and regular activity can improve mental wellbeing as well as being very important for the development of a future baby.
Having a baby is a positive and exciting experience for many women. But if you have had a traumatic experience in the past, you may find some of the difficult feelings come back when you’re planning a pregnancy or become pregnant.
When you have a serious mental illness the earlier you start planning your pregnancy the better
There is a higher chance that your mental illness will come back or get worse at this time than at other times of your life.
When you are managing a serious mental illness there’s lots of support to help you through pregnancy and beyond. Find out about the people and teams that help you here.
Your support network is very important when you are planning a pregnancy with a serious mental illness. The people around and close to you can support you and this can have a big effect on how you manage pregnancy and after.
The 5 most important things you could do before you get pregnant if you are managing a serious mental illness and are planning a pregnancy
Information for you about different types of treatment for mental health illness if you have a serious mental illness and are planning to become pregnant.
Information about when to try for a baby and fertility when you have a serious mental illness
If you have bipolar disorder and want to get pregnant it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start trying.
It’s safest to not drink at all while you’re planning a pregnancy but if you’re finding this hard, there’s lots of help available.
Information about giving up smoking while on mental health medication
Other organisations and resources who can give support if you are planning a pregnancy with a serious mental illness
You can plan ahead for the early days with a newborn by thinking about what help you might need to keep well and to look after your baby. With the right support, women with mental illness can look after their children just as well as any other parent.
It’s hard to describe childbirth. Labour is different for everyone and your experience and feelings about the birth can depend on what you expect compared to what happens.