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Drug Use During Pregnancy

A mother taking illegal drugs during pregnancy increases her risk for anemia, blood and heart infections, skin infections, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. She also is at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

Heroin, cocaine, and other addictive drugs are not necessarily deforming substances, but use can cause withdrawal in the newborn as well as growth retardation in the unborn baby. Alcohol abuse can cause what's called Fetal-Alcohol Syndrome, associated with deformed teeth and facial features and mental retardation. Marijuana, like cigarettes, has many chemicals in it besides THC. If you get stoned, your baby gets stoned--all at a time when neural cells are busy developing so that they can handle all of the neurotransmitters used in proper central nervous system functioning.

A laboratory test, called a chromatography, performed on a woman's urine can detect many illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Marijuana and cocaine, as well as other illegal drugs, can cross the placenta. Marijuana use during pregnancy may be linked to behavioral problems in the baby. Cocaine use can lead to premature delivery of the fetus, premature detachment of the placenta, high blood pressure, and stillbirth.

A woman's drug use can affect both her fetus and her newborn. Most drugs cross the placenta--the organ that provides nourishment to the fetus. Some can cause direct toxic (poisonous) effects and drug dependency in the fetus. After birth, some drugs can be passed to the baby through breast-feeding.

Drugs can cause problems throughout your pregnancy. For example, the early part of pregnancy is the most critical for the health of a fetus. This is when the main body systems are forming. Using drugs during this time can cause severe damage. Drugs can have harmful effects on the fetus at any time during the pregnancy, their nature depending on the timing of exposure. During the first two weeks of development, the embryo is thought to be resistant to any teratogenic effects of drugs.

The critical period of embryonic development, when the major organ systems develop, starts at about 17 days postconception and is complete by 60 to 70 days. Exposure to certain drugs during this period (17 to 70 days) can cause major birth defects. However, some drugs can interfere with functional development of organ systems and the central nervous system in the second and third trimesters and produce serious consequences. During the last 12 weeks of pregnancy, drug use poses the greatest risk for stunting fetal growth and causing pre-term birth.

How Drugs Affect The Pregnant Woman:

  • Poor appetite
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Early (premature) labor
  • Hard to make decisions or plans
  • More chances of infections (transmitted through sex)
  • Water breaks too early
  • Not able to recognize or cope with normal changes during pregnancy
  • Sudden bleeding

How Drugs Affect The Unborn Baby:

  • Low weight at birth
  • Early delivery or miscarriage
  • Growth and development may be slow
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)
  • Mental retardation
  • Heart problems
  • Defects of the face and body
  • Death

How Drugs Affect You and Your Baby After Delivery:

  • Withdrawal symptoms that may keep you or your baby in the hospital longer
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Greater chance of feeling depressed after having the baby
  • Trouble being a parent
  • Hard to make decisions or plans
  • Hard to cope with your new baby's needs (i.e. eating, sleeping, crying)
  • Hard to bond with your baby
  • Hard to hold a job

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