Illegal Drug Use and Pregnancy
The risks involved with illegal drug use during pregnancy
The effects of illegal drugs, like cocaine, can be devastating on a fetus. Unfortunately,
many women of childbearing age in the U.S. use some form of illegal drug.
A mother taking illegal drugs during pregnancy increases her risk for anemia, blood
and heart infections, skin infections, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. She
also is at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases. Almost every drug passes
from the mother's bloodstream through the placenta to the fetus. Illicit substances
that cause drug dependence and addiction in the mother also cause the fetus to become
A chromatography is a laboratory test performed on a woman's urine that can find many
illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Both marijuana and cocaine, as well
as other illegal drugs, can cross the placenta. Marijuana use during pregnancy may
be linked to cognitive and behavioral problems in the baby. Cocaine use can lead to miscarriage,
preterm delivery of the fetus, premature detachment of the placenta, high blood pressure,
and stillbirth. Infants born to cocaine-using mothers are more likely to have low
birth weight and may have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The effects of cocaine on the baby may include:
Using dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine can cause miscarriage and preterm birth.
Newborns exposed to these drugs in pregnancy often have signs of withdrawal, like
jitteriness, trouble sleeping and feeding. They can also later have problems with
tremors and muscle tone. They may also be at higher risk for SIDS.
Heroin and other opiates, including methadone, can cause significant withdrawal in
the baby. Some symptoms last several weeks. Babies born to opiate-addicted mothers
are at higher risk for apnea (stopping breathing) and SIDS. These babies also have
If a woman stops taking illegal drugs during her first trimester, she increases her
chances of having a healthy baby.