When you’re pregnant, anything that you take into your body — oxygen, food, fluids, prescription medications or illegal drugs — is shared with your baby. Using illegal drugs during pregnancy can have devastating effects on you and your unborn child. If you’re pregnant, nursing or planning to get pregnant, it’s more important than ever to seek treatment for substance abuse.
What Will Drugs Do to My Baby?
The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation notes that almost 4 percent of pregnant women in the US abuse illegal substances like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth or hallucinogens. The health risks of using drugs when you’re pregnant may include:
- Complications with the placenta
- Premature birth
- Poor fetal development
- A birth weight below 5.5 pounds
- Cleft lip or clubfoot
- Congenital heart defects
- Respiratory problems
- Physical disabilities
- Higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Babies whose mothers used marijuana, cocaine, meth or heroin during pregnancy may be born in a state of drug withdrawal. Drug-dependent infants are often jittery, drowsy or irritable, and may have difficulty breathing, nursing or sleeping. These babies may have birth defects, behavioral problems or cognitive disabilities that detract from their quality of life as they grow.
Pregnant women who are using drugs are also more likely to practice other risky behaviors, like smoking cigarettes or having unprotected sex. To give your baby the best possible chance at health and happiness, seek help and support from compassionate addiction specialists.
What Will Happen if I Seek Help?
Getting help for substance abuse when you’re pregnant may not be easy. In some states, tough laws make pregnant women afraid to seek basic prenatal care, much less treatment for substance abuse. Many drug rehabilitation programs don’t provide the services that pregnant mothers need to facilitate treatment, like child care or affordable transportation.
If you’re pregnant and you have concerns about where to find safe treatment for drug abuse, you’re not alone. Many pregnant women who are using drugs or alcohol worry about what will happen if they turn to a doctor or social worker for recovery support. We can help you find the support you need. We offer information about treatment resources and answers to your questions about drug rehabilitation.
*Pregnancy, Drug Use & the Legal System
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has taken a strong stand against using the criminal justice system to stop drug abuse in pregnant women. ACOG reports that some states are using the legal system in a punitive manner to force chemically dependent pregnant women to seek treatment. In other states, resources for pregnant women are limited. As of 2010:
- In 15 states, drug abuse during pregnancy is treated as a form of child abuse.
- In three states, pregnant women who abuse drugs may be committed to a mental health facility or addiction treatment center against their will.
- Only 19 states offer drug treatment programs specifically for pregnant women.
- Only nine states offer priority admission to drug treatment programs for pregnant women.
According to ACOG, threats of arrest, incarceration or mandatory rehabilitation haven’t reduced the rate of substance abuse during pregnancy, but they may discourage pregnant women from getting the prenatal care that their babies need. ACOG urges medical professionals and lawmakers to advocate for confidential, affordable prenatal care and substance abuse treatment.
What Can I Do to Get Healthy?
Help is available for at-risk women who want the best for themselves and their babies. The National Crime Prevention Council points to the Healthy Start program, a plan started by the U.S. Public Health Service in the 1990s, as an example of an effective community effort to provide prenatal care and substance abuse treatment to pregnant women. Healthy Start provides case management, referral to appropriate services, nutrition education, and transportation to pregnant women in urban and rural areas.
Getting healthy when you’re pregnant means not only getting clean but eating nutritious foods, getting good prenatal care and doing everything you can to protect yourself and your growing child.