Pregnancy brings about many changes, not just in the body of the expectant mother, but also in the way she behaves. Carrying a new life in the womb also means caring for it, and this can mean having to follow a lot of new rules like minimizing physical activity and not eating raw food such as sushi to preserve the baby’s health. These limitations can vary depending on what the doctor prescribes, but experts all agree that drug usage has detrimental effects on fetal health.
Substance abuse refers to more than just taking illicit drugs. Excessive intake of alcohol, smoking, and even misusing prescription drugs also fall into this category, and this can have negative effects on the baby as well as the mother. It is best for pregnant women to avoid using these substances during gestation, but if they have an existing substance addiction, they will need professional help to safely detox from the drug. Contact a Miami drug rehab or similar treatment facility as soon as possible to hopefully minimize the drug’s effects on the developing fetus.
It is important to remember that while drugs do not always have a lasting effect on the user’s health, it can have an impact on their pregnancy and create long-term problems in the unborn child.
Preterm Labor and Premature Birth
A normal pregnancy lasts for about 40 weeks, from the date of the mother’s last period. She may begin to go into labor, or the contractions experienced during childbirth, at 37 weeks. However, using drugs like marijuana can cause her to go into early labor and deliver the baby prematurely.
Premature infants have not yet completed all the stages of normal development, and they may be born with underdeveloped organs. They may not yet be able to breathe or eat on their own, so “preemies” often require additional medical attention. Premature babies also have a higher risk of getting sick and experiencing developmental delays because of the circumstances of their birth.
Small Head Circumference and Low Birth Weight
While premature babies are expected to be smaller than those who have a normal birth, a baby’s diminutive size may be a consequence of their mother’s drug use. Microcephaly, or having a small head circumference, has been commonly observed in infants who have been exposed to cocaine during their mother’s pregnancy. This condition is linked to brain underdevelopment, and it may result in a child with mental disabilities.
Underweight babies can also be a result of being delivered preterm, but sometimes, the cause may be linked to an unhealthy pregnancy. Drinking alcohol and taking drugs can cause intrauterine growth restriction, as they can interfere with the baby’s ability to receive nutrients and develop normally. Low birth weight also increases a baby’s risk of developing an infection and causes problems like trouble with weight gain and staying warm.
Birth defects is a broad term that can refer to physical deformities, developmental delays, or learning disabilities. It simply means that the condition is congenital or exists from the moment of birth. The incidence of babies with birth defects is higher among women who drink alcohol or use drugs during their pregnancies. They can vary in severity and may not always be immediately observable.
One example is babies with cleft lips and palates, who are more likely to be born to women who smoke. Cleft palates can be immediately observed at birth and easily repaired with corrective surgery. However, cigarette smoking can also cause congenital heart problems in newborns. It may not be apparent at birth, but it has more life-threatening implications, with most babies not making it past the first year. Those who do survive will often require a lifetime of treatment.
Drinking while pregnant can result in a child who manifests fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or its related disorders. Apart from causing facial abnormalities, FAS affects the central nervous system. This causes delays in the baby’s growth, and they may exhibit learning disabilities as they grow older.
Babies can also become dependent on drugs if they are exposed to it while in the womb. Infants can exhibit withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, marijuana, and opioids after birth. They may refuse to feed or experience tremors and seizures. These babies require special treatment as they are weaned from substance dependence.
Substance abuse takes a toll on the body of the user, and sometimes, it demands a high price. Using drugs increases the chances of having a spontaneous miscarriage, with the risk doubled for women who consume alcohol during pregnancy. Methamphetamine users may also experience preeclampsia, a condition that results in high blood pressure and an increased risk of organ damage during pregnancy.
In contrast to miscarriage, stillbirth occurs when the baby dies at 20 weeks or older. It may be caused by problems during the pregnancy or severe birth defects that result in an unviable fetus. One in 200 pregnancies can result in a stillborn birth, but the probability rises among expectant mothers who use drugs and alcohol during their pregnancy.
There are many factors that can affect a pregnancy, and drug usage can severely affect the health of the unborn child. It is best to treat any substance addictions even before getting pregnant to ensure a healthy gestation, and to provide the baby with the best chances of survival.