Pregnancy, births and maternity: avoidable risk factors during pregnancy


It is now well known that smoking during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smoking can also reduce the likelihood of conception by increasing the amount of time it takes for a women to conceive and reducing sperm count in men. 

Data on smoking during pregnancy in Scotland are available:

  1.  Under our Tobacco use pages
  2.  Under Pregnancy information on the ISD Scotland website. 

Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant can get more information from the NHS Scotland Ready Steady Baby website.


The UK's four Chief Medical Officers recommend that alcohol is not consumed during pregnancy or while trying to conceive. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to a wide range of development issues and physical disabilities including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and specifically Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) (Ready Steady Baby). FAS can cause restricted growth, distinctive facial features and lifelong learning and behavioural problems. Although this syndrome is rare, there is anxiety that more subtle forms of fetal damage may be much more common. FASD encompasses this more subtle damage, which may not have physical symptoms but can lead to problems with behaviour and learning.

Consuming alcohol whilst breast feeding can affect a baby’s digestion or sleeping pattern and it is recommended that no more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week is consumed whilst breastfeeding (Ready Steady Baby).

Limited data on alcohol consumption during pregnancy in Scotland are available from the Pregnancy information section on the ISD Scotland website.


In their Hidden Harm report, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs identified a wide variety of risks associated with maternal drug use, ranging from compromised fetal development, transmission of blood borne viruses such as HIV and neonatal withdrawal symptoms in the child.  Issues may be further compounded through poor nutrition, poly-drug use and associated alcohol and tobacco use. Maternal drug use is strongly associated with socioeconomic deprivation.

Data on maternal drug use in Scotland are available:

  1. Under our Drug misuse pages
  2. Under Pregnancy information on the ISD Scotland website.