Illegal drug use and pregnancy

The risks involved with illegal drug use during pregnancy:

The effects of illegal drugs, such as cocaine, can be devastating on a fetus. Unfortunately, many women of childbearing age in the U.S. use some form of illegal drug.

A mother taking illegal drugs during pregnancy increases her risk for anemia, blood and heart infections, skin infections, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. She also is at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases. Almost every drug passes from the mother's bloodstream through the placenta to the fetus. Illicit substances that cause drug dependence and addiction in the mother also cause the fetus to become addicted. Many of these babies experience withdrawal symptoms known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Symptoms of NAS may include:

  • tremors
  • increased sensitivity to noise or other stimuli
  • feeding problems
  • poor coordination
  • excessive crying and/or irritability

A laboratory test, called a chromatography, performed on a woman's urine can detect many illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Both marijuana and cocaine, as well as other illegal drugs, can cross the placenta. Marijuana use during pregnancy may be linked to behavioral problems in the baby. Cocaine use can lead to premature delivery of the fetus, premature detachment of the placenta, high blood pressure, stillbirth. Infants born to cocaine-using mothers may have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The effects of cocaine on the fetus may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • growth defects
  • intestinal abnormalities
  • hyperactivity
  • uncontrollable trembling
  • learning problems

Heroin and other opiates, including methadone, can cause significant withdrawal in the baby, with some symptoms lasting as long as four to six months. Seizures may also occur and are more likely in babies born to methadone users.

If a woman stops taking illegal drugs during her first trimester, she increases her chances of having a healthy baby.