Healthy living

Giving birth and going home – information for pregnant women experiencing drug and alcohol issues

Plan ahead

Babies don’t always arrive as planned and you may need to get to the hospital in a hurry. These tips can help you plan:

  • Organise transport to the hospital in advance. Some people put aside money for taxi fares. Others arrange for friends or family to drive them to the hospital.
  • You may need to make urgent phone calls, so make sure you have access to a phone or there is enough credit on your mobile.
  • If you think you are in serious trouble, dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance.

After the birth

You should stay in hospital for 5 days after the birth of your baby. This is because if your baby experiences withdrawal it is better this happens in hospital where you can both get the support you need.

During this time the hospital staff will also help you learn how to care for and get comfortable with your new baby.


Breast milk is the best food for your baby and is important for your baby’s growth and development.

Breastfeeding also:

  • builds your baby’s immunity (ability to fight infection)
  • helps you and your baby to bond
  • is free and available anytime.

For some women, breastfeeding can be a challenge. If you and your baby need help to breastfeed successfully, contact your child health nurse or a lactation consultant (a health professional who specialises in breastfeeding).

If you use drugs

Some drugs can make breastfeeding unsafe for your baby so it is best to talk to a health professional about how you can breastfeed safely. There is still a lot unknown about the effects of drugs on your baby when you are breastfeeding but it’s thought that, even at low levels, taking drugs is likely to affect your baby in a number of ways.

This can include:

  • drowsiness
  • poor feeding habits
  • disturbed sleep patterns
  • poor weight gain
  • behavioural problems.

It is not safe to use inhalants, such as solvents or aerosols, while you are breastfeeding.

If you are sharing or reusing injecting equipment, you can get blood-borne viruses such as HIV/AIDS, which can be passed on to your baby through your breast milk.

Many drugs such as amphetamines can be cut (mixed) with substances that can get into your breast milk and harm your baby.

A breastfeeding plan

If you take drugs in a one off event (that is, you don’t use them on an ongoing basis) you should not breastfeed for at least 24 hours. You should express and then throw away you breast milk for this period, before starting breastfeeding again.

Remember that after using drugs, it may not be safe for you to care for or breastfeed your baby. You may be less alert to your baby’s needs and could accidentally smother or drop your baby. If you do use drugs, make sure there is a responsible adult to care for your children during this time.

Prescribed medications

Some medications may be transferred through breast milk to your baby.

For example if you are on benzodiazepines, your doctor may change the type of medication you are taking because some are safer than others for breastfeeding.

It is safe to breastfeed if you are on methadone or subutex. If you have been on a methadone program throughout your pregnancy and your baby is experiencing withdrawal, breastfeeding can ease your baby’s withdrawal symptoms.

If you drink alcohol

Babies are particularly sensitive to alcohol so if you are going to drink, try to breastfeed before having a drink. It is best if you don’t drink to the point where you become drunk, and if you do drink more than 1 or 2 drinks regularly, you may need to consider feeding your baby with formula.

What if I have hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver.  It is passed on by blood-to-blood contact.

The risk of transmitting hepatitis C from you to your baby through breastfeeding is quite low (about 5 per cent).

For more information about hepatitis C, pregnancy and motherhood, phone Hepatitis WA on 9328 8538 or for country callers, free call 1800 800 070 (free from land line only).

Safe sleeping

Do not sleep with your baby in the same bed or couch (co-sleeping) as your baby may fall out of the bed or be suffocated. Babies whose parents are affected by drugs and alcohol have a higher risk of fatal sleep accidents like SIDS if they sleep in the same bed as their parents.

Parenting tips

Parenthood can be a great experience but it can be difficult to cope with such a big change. The following tips can help you adjust to these changes:

  • It’s common for newborn babies to wake often during the day and night. You will be exhausted at times, so try to take time for yourself and get as much rest as you can when your baby is sleeping.
  • When your baby cries all the time, or you have not had much sleep, you may feel sick, angry or out of control. Some parents deal with this situation by taking time out. If you need some time to yourself, make sure that your baby is somewhere safe like in their cot, close the door, and take 10 minutes to relax in another room. Have a cuppa or call a friend, as long as it is something that relaxes you.
  • Parenting support lines are a great way to get most of your questions answered without having to make appointments.
  • Going to community parenting support groups where you can meet people who have similar lives can help you reduce your stress and learn coping strategies. Talk to your local child health nurse about groups in your area.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Arrange for a family member or friend to help you when you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, or just need some support.
  • Young babies can get sick easily, so keep a list of emergency numbers handy and make sure that you have access to a phone.

What do I do if I use?

If you are using drugs and have a baby, it is important to be organised so that your baby is well cared for. Some partners alternate their use so that there is always someone who is looking after their baby. You could also arrange for the baby to be cared for by a trusted family member or friend if you feel like you have to or want to use.

Where to get help

Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service

The Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service (WANDAS) is a specialist team based at King Edward Memorial Hospital that cares for pregnant women experiencing drug and alcohol issues.

The WANDAS team is made up of a number of health professionals, including:

  • doctors
  • midwives
  • social workers
  • dietitians
  • mental health professionals.

WANDAS will help you and your baby become and stay as healthy as possible during your pregnancy.

  • Phone: (08) 9340 1582 or 0414 892 753

Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.