Women's Healthcare Topics

Abusing Illegal Drugs in Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Abusing Drugs in Pregnancy

Abusing illegal drugs during pregnancy is both harmful to you and your growing baby. These drugs reach the baby by crossing your placenta through your blood stream. Like with alcohol, when you take drugs, your baby is taking drugs too.

Using illegal substances during pregnancy can affect your baby in different ways, depending on what kind of drug, how much and how often you use it, and when you take it during your pregnancy. When abusing two or more illegal drugs at the same time, it is hard to predict how harmful it will be to your baby. Drugs can add and even increase each other's effects.

If you abuse illegal drugs in the early stages of pregnancy, when your baby's main body parts are developing, you increase the chances of miscarriage and birth defects. In the last trimester, drug use can stunt your baby's growth and cause premature births and stillbirths.

After the baby is born and you continue to use illegal drugs, the drugs can be passed through your breast milk. You should stop abusing these drugs before you get pregnant.

With the widespread problem of illegal drug use in this country, there are many types of drugs out there—all are harmful to your baby during pregnancy.

  • Marijuana – When you smoke, the active compound in marijuana can stay in your body for weeks, and exposes your baby to harmful substances in the smoke that you've inhaled. Smoking marijuana releases carbon monoxide in your body, which prevents your baby from getting enough oxygen.

  • Learn about the bad consequences of abusing illegal drugs in pregnancy.
  • Methamphetamine – Commonly known as "meth," this drug raises your blood pressure and heart rate as well as putting your baby at an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, brain damage, and stroke. Meth can also cause placental abruption and stillbirths. Babies exposed to meth can also grow too slowly in your womb. After they are born, meth-babies can have tremors, be very fussy, and have a hard time bonding with others.

  • Cocaine – Like smoking and meth abuse, using cocaine can also cause placental abruption, so you're at higher risk for bleeding, preterm births, and delivering stillborns. Babies born to cocaine-addicted moms develop slower than other babies, and they tend to be more irritable and fussy than babies not exposed to cocaine in the womb. Other issues they may face include withdrawal, brain defects, and long term behavioral, emotional, and learning problems.

  • Ecstasy – Similar to meth and cocaine abuse, these babies can experience mood changes, sleep problems, and loss of appetite. If you use ecstasy during pregnancy, your baby may also have long-term learning and memory problems.

  • Heroin and Narcotics – When you use heroin during pregnancy, you have an increased risk of preterm births and delivering a stillborn. If your baby survives, they will be smaller in size and have a low birth weight, have problems thinking clearly, face behavioral problems and delays in their development, and they may have a heroin or narcotic addiction.

  • "T's and Blues" – The street name for the mix of a prescription drug and an over-the-counter allergy medication. Babies of mothers addicted to "T's and Blues" are more likely to grow more slowly in the womb and face withdrawal symptoms after birth.

  • PCP – Known as "angel dust," this drug makes its user lose touch with reality. They may become violent and experience seizures, heart attacks and lung failure. Babies exposed to PCP in the womb tend to be smaller than normal, have poor control of their movements, and exhibit withdrawal symptoms.

  • Special K (Ketamine) – This drug affects its user in the same way that PCP does. Babies exposed to Special K can have behavioral and learning problems.

  • LSD ("Acid") – LSD can cause its user to hallucinate, see things that aren't there, have flashbacks, and become violent. Using LSD during pregnancy can cause birth defects.

  • Glues and Solvents – Inhaling glues and solvents damages your liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and brain; it can also cause sudden death. If you abuse these during pregnancy, you have an increased risk of miscarriage, slow growth of the baby in the womb, and preterm births. Your baby also faces birth defects similar to alcohol-affected babies.


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