Substance use is a topic that is widely discussed in the United States. We are a nation that is struggling with addiction to substances of all types. No state is exempt from substance use.

A 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as reported from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), indicates that about 53.2 million people over age 12 used illicit drugs in 2018. The most commonly used illicit drug used was marijuana (43.5 million people), followed by prescription pain relievers (9.9 million people).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that 45 percent of people over age 18 said they engaged in binge drinking, and more than 6 percent said they engaged in heavy drinking in the past month.

The American Pregnancy Association notes that “12-20 percent of pregnant women smoke,” and more than 1,000 babies die each year due to the mothers’ smoking during pregnancy. E-cigarette smoking or vaping is also harmful to the fetus, as are some nicotine replacement products.

Substance use of any kind can be harmful and even fatal to your baby. Keep reading to learn more about it, and how to safely stop using drugs, alcohol, and nicotine when pregnant.

Prescription and Illicit Substance Use Impact on Fetus

When a pregnant woman uses illegal drugs or substances during pregnancy, it could produce devastating effects for the mother and the fetus. The woman could have a miscarriage, there could be a placental abruption, or the infant may have low birth weight. Premature labor, respiratory problems, seizures, and feeding difficulties are also adverse impacts of substance use during pregnancy. The most devastating impacts of all, though, are the death of the baby or the mother.

How Marijuana Affects the Fetus

Marijuana use during pregnancy may increase the chances that the baby will have a bowel movement while inside the womb. This can result in the early onset of labor and fetal distress. It can also cause poor growth, breathing problems, and behavioral issues.

Prescription and Illicit Pain Drugs Impact on the Fetus

Women who use or misuse opioids during pregnancy put their baby at risk of preterm labor and delivery, being stillborn, have growth issues, and an increased risk for neonatal death. Babies who are born may show signs of withdrawal as they’ve become addicted to the drug.

Illicit substance use during pregnancy can double or even triple the risk of stillbirth. Illicit opioids, like cocaine and heroin, can have significant impacts on the fetus and the mother. Some of these are:

  • Maternal migraines and seizures
  • Premature membrane rupture
  • Placental abruption
  • High blood pressure
  • Spontaneous miscarriage
  • Fetal addiction

Stimulant Drug Impact on the Fetus

Stimulants, such as amphetamines like crystal meth, increase the likelihood of early placental separation, a baby born with growth problems, and in utero fetus death.

Nicotine Impact on the Fetus

Smoking cigarettes or using e-cigarettes cause a pregnant woman to inhale poisons, such as nicotine, lead, arsenic, and carbon monoxide, according to the American Pregnancy Association. These toxins are taken into the placenta, the tissues that connect the baby to the mother. When an expectant mother smokes, so does her baby. Poisons, such as these, prevent the baby from getting the proper supply of oxygen that he or she needs in order to grow.

A pregnant woman who smokes may cause her infant to have low birth weight, may go into preterm delivery, or possibly cause infant death. In addition, secondhand smoke can result in other physical problems for the baby, both in utero and after birth, such as lung problems like asthma and disabilities. Thirdhand smoke (gases and toxins that are in the clothes, hair, curtains, and furniture of a smoker) could produce the same impacts on the fetus or newborn.

If you are thinking about using a nicotine replacement product, please consult with your health care provider first.

Alcohol Impact on Fetus

The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that “children born to mothers who both drank and smoked beyond the first trimester of pregnancy have a twelvefold increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”

Also, the agency warns that “children born to mothers who both drank and smoked beyond the first trimester of pregnancy have a twelvefold increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”

One of the most respected sources on pregnancy and substance use, the March of Dimes, states that substances and “harmful chemicals from smoke can pass directly through the umbilical cord to the baby. This could cause miscarriage, birth defects, and premature birth.” They also note that it is best to consult with your doctor before taking any herbal products during pregnancy.

The organization explains that alcohol passes through the placenta and the umbilical cord to the fetus. The placenta grows in the womb and supplies the fetus with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Any amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can harm the baby’s brain and other organs as they develop.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is possible if a woman drinks alcohol when pregnant. FAS is a congenital condition that is characterized by physical and mental defects.

It is critical to know that there are three basic FAS diagnoses:

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) – Babies with FAS have central nervous system problems, minor facial features, and growth problems.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) – Intellectual disabilities and learning and behavioral problems are indicators of ARND.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD) – Heart, kidney, bones, and/or hearing problems are indicators of ARBD

Below are possible symptoms for fetal alcohol-related diagnoses:

  • A small head
  • Facial abnormalities, like a cleft palate, wide-set eyes, or thin upper lip
  • Deformed fingers or limbs
  • Vision impairment
  • Dental malformations
  • Below average height and weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Speech, movement and social skills difficulties
  • Heart problems and kidney defects or abnormalities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Behavioral disorders (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Help For Substance Use When Pregnant

If you are pregnant and struggling with substance use, you are not alone, and help is available. It is crucial to learn how to stop using substances when you are expecting and not jeopardize your life or your baby’s.

We understand this is a very challenging time. Expectant mothers-to-be face a range of challenges. Much is expected of them. Struggling with substance use and wanting to stop using substances while pregnant can be a particularly daunting challenge to take on. However, it can be done and done safely for both mother and fetus.

Substance use treatment can be greatly beneficial as it entails medical and psychological methods and therapies to safely wean you off the substances and keep you off of them. You will have continuous substantial support as your body is rid of drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and other toxins, and afterward in treatment.

Prenatal care is vital to expectant women and unborn babies. Research indicates that when a woman stops using substances during pregnancy, she increases the chances of having a healthy baby.

Founded in 1970, The Palm Beach Institute was the first private drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Florida. Our approach to substance use treatment is multidimensional and comprehensive. We recognize that each individual is unique and requires an individualized treatment plan to be successful on the journey to recovery.

Our addiction treatment services cover the essential aspects of substance use, including medical detox, residential care, outpatient care, family recovery, and a strong alumni program.

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