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Illegal Drug Use And Pregnancy

The risks involved with illegal drug use during pregnancy

The effects of illegal drugs can be devastating to a fetus. A mother taking illegal drugs during pregnancy increases her risk for anemia, blood and heart infections, skin infections, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. She is also 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. Babies born to drug-using mothers can be born with a drug addiction.

A chromatography is a laboratory test performed on a woman's urine that 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 cognitive and behavioral problems in the baby. Cocaine use can lead to miscarriage, preterm delivery of the fetus, premature detachment of the placenta, high blood pressure and stillbirth. Infants born to cocaine-using mothers are more likely to have low birthweight and may have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The effects of cocaine on the baby may include, but are not limited to:

  • growth defects
  • hyperactivity
  • behavioral problems
  • learning problems

Dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine use can also cause miscarriage and preterm birth. Newborns exposed to these drugs during pregnancy often have signs of withdrawal, such as jitteriness and trouble sleeping and feeding. They may also experience future problems with tremors and muscle tone and may be at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

Heroin and other opiates can cause significant withdrawal in the baby, with some symptoms lasting several weeks. Babies born to opiate-addicted mothers are at higher risk for apnea (stopping breathing) and SIDS. These babies can also have feeding difficulties.

If a woman stops taking illegal drugs as soon as she finds out she is pregnant during her first trimester, she increases her chances of having a healthy baby.