How Does My Addiction Affect My Unborn Baby?

Nearly 4% of all pregnant women are users of illicit drugs during pregnancy. When alcohol use is included, the numbers are still higher. However, the consequences of a mother’s drug or alcohol use can cause developmental delays for the fetus and change the life of her baby forever. Below are some common problems caused by drug abuse.

Alcohol: How does alcohol affect my pregnancy? 

Fetal exposure to alcohol is one of the main preventable causes of birth defects in America (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). One in 10 women drink during pregnancy, which means 10% of all the babies in the nation are at risk for alcohol-related effects, especially Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Fetal Alcohol syndrome is a condition characterized by

  • poor growth
  • abnormal facial features
  • damage to the brain and spinal cord
  • Behavioral problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Organ defects

Other effects include

  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm birth
  • Stillbirth

When you drink during pregnancy, alcohol also enters your baby’s blood system. Unlike adults, a baby’s liver is not mature enough to break down all the alcohol in their system, and they end up with higher levels of blood alcohol than you have. Only one drink a day can increase the risk for a baby with physical and developmental problems.

Tobacco: How does tobacco/cigarettes affect my pregnancy? 

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals—chemicals that goes from your system straight to your baby’s blood. The two most dangerous chemicals, nicotine and carbon monoxide, constrict blood vessels and decrease the amount of oxygen in your blood, thus preventing your baby from getting oxygen and other important nutrients. 
The combined effects prevents normal fetal development, and also

  • Doubles the chance of low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds)
  • Doubles the risk of stillbirth
  • Triple risk of sudden infant death syndrome

Smoking during pregnancy also places the baby at risk for

  • Premature delivery
  • Underdeveloped bodies
  • Heart defects
  • Lung problems
  • Learning disorders
  • Behavioral problems

The more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your baby's chances of developing these and other health problems. There is no “safe” level of smoking while pregnant.

Cocaine: How does cocaine affect my pregnancy? 

Cocaine is another drug that crosses the placenta and enters your baby's circulation. Since the baby cannot metabolize or get rid of cocaine as fast as you can, cocaine remains in the baby's body much longer than it does in your body. Cocaine also causes high blood pressure, which constricts the blood vessels, limiting the baby’s source of survival. This places the baby at risk for

  • Miscarriage
  • Placental abruption: severe bleeding, preterm birth, fetal death
  • Birth defects
  • Premature labor
  • Withdrawal symptoms present at birth
  • Learning difficulties
  • Organ defects

Heroin: How does heroin affect my pregnancy? 

Heroin, the King of Narcotics, is the number one most addictive drug in the world—not just for the mother, but for the baby. Injecting heroin is extremely dangerous since it places the baby at risk for life-threatening infections like hepatitis and HIV.  Even if heroin is not injected, its use during pregnancy increases the risk of

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Bleeding within the brain
  • Infant death
  • Withdrawal symptoms at birth, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Weed: How does weed affect my pregnancy? 

Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug among women of childbearing age in the United States. Similar to tobacco, marijuana decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the baby, thus stunting growth and development. It also increases your risk for

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight
  • Risk for developing infections
  • Learning disabilities, growth and developmental delays

There is much debate about the harmfulness of marijuana during pregnancy. In some cases, there seems to be no apparent adverse effect.  However, while you cannot prove the negative effects of weed, nor can you disprove them. Regardless, it is certainly not worth risking your own child’s health.

Meth: How does meth, speed and ecstasy affect my pregnancy? 

Methamphetamine causes the heart rate of the mother and baby to increase, constricts blood vessels, and decreases oxygen supply to the fetus. Studies have shown that meth abuse during pregnancy can affect the child up to three years or age. Meth abuse during pregnancy is associated with

What Can I Do?

If you become pregnant (or are planning a pregnancy) and if you use drugs or alcohol, inform your obstetrician. They will most likely refer you to a treatment center where you can detox safely and comfortably. Complete abstinence is the only way to ensure the future well-being of your child. Many rehabs offer special programs for pregnant women, and others are equipped with seasoned professionals who can provide the best care for both you and your little one. There are programs available either inpatient, outpatient and residential. 

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