When someone who is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction becomes pregnant, the dangers become not only prevalent to the mother, but her unborn child, too. While many people may know it is dangerous, it is important to explain the full extent of the danger and long-term implications for the baby. When it comes to addiction and pregnancy, everything the mother uses or ingests, such as drugs, alcohol or even caffeine, is ingested by the baby as well. The first, most recognized, symptoms in babies born to mothers using alcohol or drugs are birth defects. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has done extensive research on birth defects from substance use and found babies born without eyes, with cleft lips, heart artery problems and decreased cortisol response. The effects vary based on the amount of alcohol and intensity of drug used, but the common denominator is the same, the baby always pays the price for the parent’s addiction. Babies that are born from mothers with substance addictions often have long-term developmental issues. Crack cocaine use during pregnancy causes babies to be labeled ‘crack babies’ when born, sometimes experiencing dangerous withdrawal symptoms once they are out of the womb, imitating that of an adult when they are in recovery.
The symptoms aren’t just prevalent when they are born; many have several issues throughout their lifetime. Many develop deficits in “cognitive performance, information-processing, and attention to tasks”. It isn’t just cocaine that creates long-term affects on children; other drug use such as marijuana and alcohol ingestion has caused early-childhood behavior problems and memory deficiencies. Actually, any use of drugs, alcohol or even tobacco can result in “brain structure changes” in children. More drastic affects of drug and alcohol use during pregnancy are extremely prevalent in mothers that had heavy drug use, resulting in premature and stillborn births.
According to NICHD, it is suggested that mothers looking to get pregnant avoid drug and alcohol use at least three months before attempting to conceive. This means, unfortunately, mothers that get pregnant unexpectedly may still have a child with birth deficiencies even if they stop as soon as they find out they are pregnant. So what do we do about this? First of all, if you or your loved one has an addiction to drugs and alcohol – seek help. Whether you are pregnant or not, recovery is vital for your life. If you know someone who is pregnant and in need of drug or alcohol treatment, encourage them to seek help for not only their health – but the livelihood of their unborn child.