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You are not only eating, drinking and breathing just for yourself during pregnancy. As an expecting mother, you should want your baby to develop and be as healthy as possible. Everything you put into your body affects your unborn child; therefore, it is essential to be mindful of these things. You should avoid all illegal drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. If you have a substance abuse disorder and then become pregnant, it is recommended to seek treatment and stop the use of all illegal drugs and alcohol, as this will benefit the healthy outcome for your baby.

The Effects of Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

Since your baby is getting fed through the umbilical cord and placenta, everything you consume, your baby consumes as well. Drugs and alcohol pass through the umbilical cord and placenta and straight to your unborn baby. A fetus is not able to remove the toxins from drugs and alcohol the way an adult can. Instead, the chemicals from the drug will build up in the fetus’ system and can cause permanent damage.

Alcohol and illicit drugs are not safe for a developing child at any time before or during pregnancy. The risks are severe and can include, but are not limited to:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small size
  • Premature birth
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Drug dependency
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Miscarriage
  • Fetal death
  • Maternal death

During the early stages of pregnancy, the use of drugs can change the way the fetus’ organs and limbs develop. The use of drugs or alcohol just one time can cause a congenital disability or even miscarriage. The use of drugs in the later stages of pregnancy poses an even more significant risk of developmental issues such as issues in the central nervous system. After giving birth to the baby, if you are still using drugs or alcohol, the chemicals and toxins will be in your breast milk, and you can pass these chemicals to your baby if you are breastfeeding.

How Certain Drugs Affect Pregnancy

Consuming drugs or alcohol increase the risk of stillbirth or miscarriage. Below are some common side effects that certain drugs can have on a fetus inside the womb.


Alcohol consumption in small amounts during pregnancy puts your unborn baby at risk for health and developmental issues. Alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage and developmental defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS affects the mental, physical, and behavioral state of the child. These effects can last a lifetime. There is no safe amount of alcohol a pregnant woman can consume.


Cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that can affect the brain and lower the amount of oxygen the baby is receiving. An unborn baby absorbs approximately 15% more nicotine than the mother according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Smoking cigarettes while pregnant, the baby encounters the nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide and can suffer birth defects including respiratory issues, hearing and eyesight problems, and cerebral palsy. Even breathing in second-hand smoke can put your unborn baby’s health at risk. Second-hand smoke can cause low birth weight, breathing issues, and higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).


Typically women who use cocaine during pregnancy have poor nutrition habits and do not pay attention to prenatal care; therefore, determining adverse reactions to the drug is difficult. However, it is known that cocaine overstresses the cardiovascular changes that one has during pregnancy. Women using cocaine while pregnant are at risk for developing seizures, migraines, hypertension, and placental abruption or separation from the uterus. The use of cocaine puts the unborn child at risk for high blood pressure, sudden death, cardiac arrhythmia, and seizures after birth.


Using heroin during pregnancy can increase your chances of bleeding during the third trimester and may cause pre-eclampsia (severe high blood pressure). The effects on the unborn baby can include dangerously low birth weight, premature birth, and even death. Choosing to use illicit drugs such as heroin or cocaine can increase the chance of the baby developing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) after birth or even SIDS. NAS is a postnatal withdrawal syndrome that can cause excessive crying, irritability, gastrointestinal and feeding issues, and breathing troubles. NAS will require serious medical attention.


Some studies have shown that marijuana could cause a decrease in developments, premature birth, and low birth weight or cancer. The use of marijuana during pregnancy can also be connected to trouble with decision-making skills and poor academic performance later in the child’s life.


A fetus that is exposed to meth can suffer from long-term effects that include trouble with physical ability, behavior, and cognitive skills. Studies show that children exposed to meth during pregnancy suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Studies have been conducted that also show when a mother uses meth during pregnancy, congenital disabilities such as gastroschisis (intestines outside of the abdominal wall) have occurred.


Using painkillers or opiates while pregnant can cause developing issues to the fetus. Exposure to opioids can cause birth defects including additional fluid on the baby’s brain, glaucoma, congenital heart defects, and abdominal wall defects. Painkillers are similar to heroin; therefore, the pregnant woman and unborn child can experience the same effects. Children who are born with NAS typically have more painful withdrawal symptoms after birth.

Treatment and Rehab Options for Pregnant Women

When a woman is suffering from addiction or a co-occurring mental health issue, she should contact her health care provider about drug abuse treatment options. A health professional will evaluate the situation and help plan out a treatment plan based on which stage of pregnancy she is at, the severity of her addiction and if any co-occurring disorders are present.

There are specialized addiction treatment facilities and rehabilitation facilities available for pregnant women. These facilities offer a safe environment that is drug-free, so they can recover from their addiction and focus on sobriety and their pregnancy. Even after the substance abuse treatment has been completed, it is highly recommended to attend therapy appointments or support group meetings after birth to ensure long-term recovery.

If you are pregnant or considering getting pregnant and battling addiction, contact professionals at Serenity Acres so they can help you get on the right track to sobriety. Living a healthy and sober life is what is best for not only you but also your unborn child.