Using Illegal Street Drugs During Pregnancy

When you are pregnant it is important that you watch what you put into your body. Consumption of illegal drugs is not safe for the unborn baby or for the mother. Studies have shown that consumption of illegal drugs during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature labor, placental abruption, fetal death and even maternal death. The following information can help you understand these drugs and their effects.


Common slang names: Pot, weed, grass and reefer

What happens when a pregnant woman smokes marijuana?
Marijuana crosses the placenta to your baby. Marijuana, like cigarette smoke, contains toxins that keep your baby from getting the proper supply of oxygen that he or she needs to grow.

How can marijuana effect the unborn baby?
Smoking marijuana during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature births, developmental delays, behavioral and learning problems.

What if I smoked marijuana before I knew I was pregnant?
According to Dr. Richard S. Abram, author of Will it Hurt the Baby, "occasional use of marijuana, during the first trimester is unlikely to cause birth defects." Once you are aware you are pregnant, you should stop smoking. Doing this will decrease the chances of harming your baby.


Common slang names: Bump, toot, C, coke, crack, flake, snow and candy

What happens when a pregnant woman consumes cocaine?
Cocaine crosses the placenta and enters your baby's circulation. The elimination of cocaine is slower in the fetus than in an adult. This means that cocaine remains in the baby's body much longer than in you.

How can cocaine effect my unborn baby?
According to the Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS), during the early months of pregnancy cocaine exposure may increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, cocaine use can cause placental abruption. Placental abruption can lead to severe bleeding, preterm birth, and fetal death. OTIS also states that the risk of a birth defect appears to be greater when the mother has used cocaine frequently during pregnancy.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG), women who use cocaine during their pregnancy have a 25 % increased chance of premature labor. Babies born to mothers who use cocaine throughout their pregnancy may also have a smaller head.

What if I consumed cocaine before I knew I was pregnant?
There have not been any conclusive studies done on single doses of cocaine during pregnancy. Birth defects and other side effects are usually a result of prolonged use but since studies are inconclusive it is best to just stay away from cocaine altogether. Cocaine is a very addictive drug and it is easier not to abuse, if you don't experiment.


Common slang names: Horse, smack, junk and H-stuff

What happens when a pregnant woman uses heroin?
Heroin is a very addictive drug that crosses the placenta to the baby. Because this drug is so addictive, the unborn baby can become dependent on the drug.

How can heroin effect my unborn baby?
Using heroin during pregnancy increases the chance of premature birth, low birth-weight, infant deaths and withdrawal syndrome in newborns. Withdrawal syndrome can cause convulsions, diarrhea, fever and sleep abnormalities in an infant.

What if I am addicted to heroin and I am pregnant?
Treating an addiction to heroin can be complicated, especially when you are pregnant. Your doctor may prescribe methadone as a form of treatment. It is best that you communicate with your doctor so he or she can provide the best treatment for you and your baby.


What happens when a pregnant woman takes PCP and LSD?
PCP and LSD are hallucinogens. Both PCP and LSD users can have violent behavior, which may cause harm to the baby if the mother hurts herself.

How can PCP and LSD effect my unborn baby?
PCP use during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight, poor muscle control, brain damage, and withdrawal syndrome if used frequently. LSD can lead to birth defects if used frequently.

What if I experimented with LSD or PCP before I knew I was pregnant?
No conclusive studies have been done on one time use effects of these drugs on the fetus. It is best not to experiment if you are trying to get pregnant or think you may have a chance of being pregnant.


What happens when a pregnant woman takes speed?
Speed is an amphetamine, which causes the heart rate of the mother and baby to increase.

How can speed effect my unborn baby?
Taking speed during pregnancy can cause the baby to get less oxygen, which can lead to a small baby at birth. Speed can also increase the likelihood of premature labor and miscarriage.

What if I experimented with speed before I knew I was pregnant?
There have not been any significant studies done on the effect of one time use of speed during pregnancy. It is best not to experiment if you are trying to get pregnant or think you may have a chance of being pregnant.

What does the law say?

Currently there is only one state, South Carolina, who holds prenatal substance abuse as a criminal act of child abuse and neglect. Other states have their own way of dealing with prenatal substance abuse:

  • Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota's health care professionals are required to report prenatal drug exposure.
  • Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Utah, Virginia and Rhode Island's health care professionals are required to report and test for prenatal exposure. Reporting and testing can be evidence used in child welfare proceedings.
  • Some states consider prenatal substance abuse as part of their child welfare laws. Therefore prenatal drug exposure can provide grounds for terminating parental rights because of child abuse or neglect. These states include: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin
  • Some states have policies that enforce admission to an inpatient treatment program for pregnant women who use drugs. These states include: Minnesota, South Carolina and Wisconsin

How can I get help?

You can get help from counseling, support groups and treatment programs. Popular groups include the 12 step program. Numbers that can help you locate a treatment center include:

  • National Drug Help Hotline 1-800-662-4357
  • National Alcohol and Drug Abuse 1-800-234-1253

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association