Drug use during pregnancy can have temporary or permanent effects on the fetus. Any drug that acts during embryonic or fetal development to produce a permanent alteration of form or function is known as a teratogen.
How Does Drug Usage During Pregnancy Affect the Baby?
Your baby is connected by the placenta and umbilical cord. Nearly everything that enters your body will be shared with your baby. This means that any drug you use will also affect your baby. A fetus is very sensitive to drugs and can’t eliminate drugs as effectively as you can. Consequently, the chemicals can build up to extremely high levels in the baby’s system and cause permanent damage.
In general, however, using drugs during pregnancy can result in the following:
- Low birth weight places an infant at a higher risk for illness, intellectual disability, and even death.
- Premature birth increases the risk of lung, eye, and learning problems in the infant.
- small size
- Birth defects that often occur due to drug use include seizure, stroke, and intellectual and learning disabilities.
- sudden infant death syndrome
- Fetuses can become dependent on the drugs the mother is using and may experience withdrawal symptoms after delivery.
Using any type of illegal drug during pregnancy can have a detrimental effect on your child. Here is some information on the most commonly used drugs and how they can affect a developing baby.
Marijuana use should also be avoided while breastfeeding, as the drug can easily be transmitted to the baby through breast milk.
Cocaine use during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. It can also cause premature rupture of membranes, early separation of the placenta, and preterm labour. A baby exposed to cocaine is at a higher risk for:
- poor growth
- feeding problems
- deformed limbs
- brain damage
- reproductive or urinary system abnormalities
- sudden infant death syndrome
- long-term behavioural problems
After pregnancy, cocaine can be transmitted to the baby through breast milk, so it shouldn’t be used while breast-feeding.
Opiates, also known as narcotics, include heroin and methadone. Women who use narcotics during pregnancy are at increased risk for preterm labour and delivery. They are also more likely to deliver a stillborn baby or a baby with growth problems. Babies exposed to narcotics in utero are at increased risk for neonatal death.
If you use heroin during pregnancy, your baby may be born addicted to the drug. They may experience a severe, life-threatening withdrawal syndrome after delivery. This condition is characterized by the following symptoms:
- high-pitched crying
- poor feeding
Your baby will need special care and medication to treat their withdrawals.
If you share needles, you should be tested for HIV and hepatitis. These infections can also cause complications in your baby.
Like cocaine and marijuana, heroin shouldn’t be used while breast-feeding.
If you can quit using opiates altogether, it will be best for you and your baby. However, switching to methadone is better than continued heroin use. Methadone is associated with better pregnancy outcomes than heroin, but babies can still experience the narcotic withdrawal syndrome. Additionally, they may still be at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome. For these reasons, it’s best to avoid using methadone during pregnancy. Methadone use of 20 milligrams or less per day is compatible with breast-feeding.
If you use stimulants, such as crystal methamphetamine (speed), then you are at increased risk for the following problems:
- Early placental separation
- Delivery of a baby with growth problems
- Death of the fetus in the uterus
Amphetamines shouldn’t be used if you’re breast-feeding.