For most women, pregnancy is a time of anticipation and joy, filled with plans for the future and excitement over the new life growing inside. Women who are addicted to illegal drugs, however, typically find that these positive emotions are replaced by fears and worries about their unborn baby, concerns about their own health and the relentless demands of their addictions. Even necessary prescription medications can be harmful to the developing fetus. Illegal drugs like heroin, methamphetamines and crack cocaine can do enormous damage and may even cause miscarriages or stillbirths due to the toxic effects of these drugs on the baby’s delicate systems.
Heroin addiction and pregnancy
Heroin can pass through the blood barrier to affect the baby inside the womb, causing a host of problems including low birth weight, respiratory problems, birth defects, heart failure and pre-birth heroin addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Worst of all, because heroin users typically share needles the mother may become infected with HIV, hepatitis or other blood-borne diseases. The baby typically contracts these illnesses through the blood transferred via the umbilical cord and is born already infected with these ailments.
Due to their effect on heart rate and blood pressure, methamphetamines can seriously damage cardiovascular systems in the developing baby and cause nervous tics and spasms. Meth restricts the transfer of oxygen through the umbilical cord, causing short-term oxygen deprivation that can cause brain damage. Babies born to meth-addicted mothers typically have far lower birth weights and experience developmental delays due to the toxic effects of this dangerous drug; additionally, miscarriages and stillbirths are markedly higher among methamphetamine users than their non-addicted counterparts.
Cocaine And Crack
The use of cocaine and crack cocaine during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects, developmental disabilities including retardation, cerebral palsy, low birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths. Cocaine can build up in the baby’s system much more rapidly than in an adult’s body and can do proportionately more damage to the developing nervous system. Additionally, if the mother continues to use cocaine or crack late in pregnancy, the baby can be born addicted and will have to suffer through withdrawal in its first days of life.
Treatment And Prognosis
Serious damage to the unborn baby can be avoided by women who seek treatment for their drug addiction early in the pregnancy. Treatment is typically administered in a hospital, clinic or specialized treatment facility and includes detoxification, individual and group therapy, and constant monitoring of the developing baby to identify any potential complications that may arise due to the mother’s addiction to drugs. In order to protect the well-being of the unborn baby, some facilities require the expectant mother to reside in the facility for monitoring and support. Others perform regular drug tests to ensure that the mother remains drug-free throughout her pregnancy.
For women suffering from drug addiction, an unplanned pregnancy may inspire fear, worry, or despair. By choosing the life of the unborn child over the lure of the addiction, however, many mothers can save not only their baby’s life, but their own as well.