Drug Abuse and Pregnancy

Drug abuse during pregnancy, even in small amounts, puts both mother and baby at risk. Sadly, however, drug use is prevalent among pregnant women and, according to studies in the United States, in 2011-2012 some 5.9% of pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 44 used illegal drugs.

While the use of all drugs carries a risk, different drugs pose different threats. Some of these drugs and their effects are described here.

How drugs affect your baby

Babies in the womb receive nourishment and oxygen from their mother’s placenta. If the mother takes in toxins, like drugs, then these too will enter the baby through the placenta. Drugs are harmful at all stages of pregnancy but their effects vary according to the stage of pregnancy:

  • Conception to two weeks – the foetus is believed to have some resistance to drugs that interfere with embryonic development.
  • 17 to 70 days – this is the critical stage as it is when the major organs develop. Drug use during this time can cause major damage.
  • Final 12 weeks – at this stage the risk of stunting foetal growth or premature birth due to drug use is at its greatest.

You should also remember that, after birth, breast milk will also be affected if the mother is on drugs.

How drugs affect you when you are pregnant

The effects of drugs on pregnant women are the same as those on other users. Pregnant women, however, experience additional problems:

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Inability to deal with emotional changes during pregnancy and after birth.
  • Premature labour.

The effects of different drugs

Different drugs have different effects. Some of these are as follows:

• Cannabis – of all the illegal drugs, cannabis is the most widely used. As with smoking, it can lead to premature birth and low birth weight. Newborns can be unsettled and easily startled and have an increased risk of cot death. There may also be behavioural and learning difficulties later in life.

• Cocaine – cocaine and crack cocaine increase the risk of miscarriage, stunt the baby’s growth in the womb and increase the risk of behavioural and learning problems. In some cases, it is possible for the baby to be born with a cocaine addiction.

• Opioids – whether used on prescription or illegally, opioids like heroin, morphine and Tramadol, slow the baby’s growth and can seriously affect the development of the baby’s brain. The baby may also have difficulty breathing after birth and may exhibit withdrawal symptoms. In later life, behavioural problems may emerge. Trying to quit an opioid habit during pregnancy is also dangerous and could result in a miscarriage, premature birth or the baby being stillborn; professional help is vital.

• Amphetamines and methamphetamine – these drugs can reduce the amount of oxygen and nourishment carried to the baby through the placenta. This can cause stunted growth and can lead to miscarriage or premature birth. There is also the possibility of behavioural and learning difficulties later on. As with opioids, it is dangerous to come off amphetamines and methamphetamine during pregnancy without professional help, as you or your baby could be harmed and there is the possibility of a miscarriage.

• Ecstasy – very little research has been conducted into the effects of taking ecstasy during pregnancy. It is, however, thought that exposure to ecstasy in the womb could cause birth defects and harm the baby’s motor development.

Quitting drugs

To give your baby the best chance of being born safely and in good health, it is important to get off drugs early. If you are planning a baby, you should seek treatment before the pregnancy, as this will reduce the risks to baby and yourself. The experts at Life Works Community will be able to give you all the help and support you need to ensure your good health and that of your baby.

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