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Substance misuse

Taking illegal drugs or substances such as cannabis, cocaine, and new psychoactive substances (known as ‘legal highs’) may contribute to fertility problems. Taking illegal or recreational drugs can also cause serious problems in pregnancy.

Using illegal drugs before pregnancy may affect the person taking the substance, which may affect the fertility, and overall physical and mental health. Many illegal drugs can be harmful to the sperm development and quality. Excessive exposure to nicotine and illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, new psychoactive substances and amphetamine can cause complications in future pregnancies. 

  • Cigarette smoking during pregnancy has been linked with low birth weight, preterm and stillbirth, poor growth, and developmental issues.
  • Maternal substance use is associated with pregnancy complications, low birth weight, an increased risk of infant mortality, developmental issues following birth, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (a condition following delivery, when the umbilical cord has been cut, the supply of drugs to the baby suddenly stops and the baby may show signs of physical withdrawal) 
  • Drug or substance use is also associated with other social and health problems that affect both the mother and infant, including domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, sexual abuse, mental health, and poor health care.

Where to access support 

We understand that some people may be misusing illegal drugs for many different reasons at certain points in their lives however, please seek advice and support from your health professional if you are using drugs and are thinking about becoming pregnant. It is important you do not stop abruptly as there may be withdrawal problems or side effects from stopping the substance you are using. 

If you would like support to stop using substances or you are worried you might be dependent on substances, you can speak to your GP or our local Substance Misuse Service.

If you are pregnant, please speak to your midwife in confidence as they help you to access the right help and support. You can also speak to your midwife or GP if you are worried you may be dependent on prescription medication. 

Useful links and resources

Confidential help and support is available: