(Date of issue: May 2015. Version: 2)
This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by Public Health England on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.
What is it?
Butane is a gas that is used as fuel in camping stoves and cigarette lighters, and also as a propellant in aerosol spray cans.
Is it safe use butane in pregnancy?
There are no large studies of women who used butane during pregnancy. When products containing butane gas (such as aerosol cans) are used as recommended by the manufacturer, the amount of butane that is inhaled should be very small and would not be expected to harm an unborn baby.
However butane is sometimes inhaled as a recreational drug. This can cause serious effects including heart attack, coma and death. Case studies of two pregnant women who intentionally inhaled butane during the third trimester of pregnancy have been written up in medical journals. Both women were found unconscious and had low levels of oxygen in their blood. Both of the babies of these women were born with serious brain abnormalities that were likely to have been caused by butane inhalation leading to a lack of oxygen reaching the baby in the womb. One of the babies died after the birth. Although the other baby survived, its development was affected and it had abnormal movements after birth.
The effects of recreational use of butane at other stages of pregnancy and on pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage, stillbirth, structural malformations, preterm birth, low birth weight, and learning and behaviour in the child are not known. It is also unclear whether recreational use of butane that does not cause severe effects such as unconsciousness in the mother is likely to cause problems in the unborn baby.
What if I have already used butane during pregnancy?
If you have used butane as a recreational substance during pregnancy you should let your doctor or midwife know. They will be able to get you help and support to safely stop using butane.
Will my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy?
As part of their routine antenatal care most women will be offered a scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to look for birth defects and to check the baby’s growth.
If you have intentionally inhaled butane during pregnancy it is advisable that you tell your doctor or midwife as soon as possible. They will then be able to make sure that you and your baby receive extra monitoring if necessary.
Are there any risks to my baby if the father has used butane?
No studies have specifically investigated whether recreational butane used by the father can harm the baby through affects on the sperm, however most experts agree that this is very unlikely. More research on the effects of substance and medicine use in men around the time of conception is needed.
Who can I talk to if I have questions?
If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from www.uktis.org.
Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks. They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.
Medicines use in pregnancy
Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby. There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development. How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.
If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.
When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.
Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.