It’s no secret that smoking and drinking alcohol are not particularly healthy. But maybe cigarettes, beer, or wine are just an indulgence that you don’t want to give up. Though you might see things differently once you find out you're pregnant. After all, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol isn’t just harmful to yourself, but can also harm your baby while you’re pregnant. But what do the substances actually do during pregnancy? And what can you do to resist the temptation to smoke or drink alcohol as much as possible at this time?

Cigarette smoke contains many harmful substances, for example nicotine. During pregnancy, it causes the fetus to have a poorer supply of oxygen and important nutrients. This increases the risk of miscarriage or premature birth. Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are also more likely to develop respiratory illnesses later in life, and are more likely to have heart defects, growth problems and learning difficulties. It is still unclear why this is. But what is certain is that nicotine also passes into breast milk. There is also evidence that babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy or while breastfeeding don’t drink as well, are more restless, more likely to suffer from colic, and have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

It is best if you manage not to smoke at all during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It's also good for your partner to support you by not smoking either. For one thing, it will be easier for you to do without it, plus it will be good for the developing baby as well. Once your baby is born, the harmful substances from cigarette smoke will also enter their body through the air if other people smoke around them. If you can't manage to quit smoking even though you want to and are trying hard to do so, you should at least try to smoke as few cigarettes as possible. Every cigarette you don't smoke helps the developing baby. Switching to e-cigarettes and vaporizers or ‘vapes’ is unfortunately not the solution. They can also contain nicotine. Moreover, harmful substances have been detected even in the nicotine-free varieties. But perhaps it’s helpful to know that pregnancy is an important reason for many people to stop smoking altogether. Many who manage to do so while pregnant remain smoke-free afterwards and are glad that they succeeded. The Federal Centre for Health Education offers helpful tips on quitting with its online advice for pregnant people, which you can find on the website

Alcohol is like poison for your body’s cells. During pregnancy, it can also damage the organs and nerves of developing embryos and fetuses. This is especially true once the placenta has formed. Then when you drink alcohol, it goes directly into the fetus’s bloodstream. But its liver isn't developed enough to break down alcohol. That means it remains in the fetus’s blood ten times longer than it does in yours. This puts your baby at risk for organ damage and birth defects. What’s more, alcohol can also prevent the neural pathways in the developing fetus's brain from connecting properly. This can result in intellectual disabilities. Often these do not become apparent until the child is two or three years old. However, you should not immediately fear the worst if you drank alcohol in the first days of pregnancy because you didn’t know you were pregnant. Most of the time there are no consequences for the child due to drinking at this point in pregnancy.

During pregnancy, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol entirely from the beginning. It’s important to seek professional help if you find that you're having a hard time with this. This is also the case if you drank alcohol regularly before pregnancy and now notice that you are sleeping badly without alcohol, sweating a lot, having headaches or find that your heart beats harder and you are restless. In this case it is important that you consult with your doctor. You can find out whether these are signs of physical dependence. Your doctor can also tell you where to find an alcohol counseling centre and the best way to proceed.