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Pregnancy and substance use don’t mix

Posted on 03-30-16 in Children, Substance Abuse

Pregnancy and substance use don’t mix

Substance abuse isn’t healthy for anyone. Using drugs and alcohol brings a catalogue of health risks. There’s a considerable danger of physical injury while under the influence, and drug-seeking behavior can be genuinely hazardous. None of these are healthy for a pregnant person.

They’re all unhealthy for the baby, too.

During pregnancy, the developing fetus receives nutrients from the mother through the umbilical cord. Everything the mother digests passes into the baby’s bloodstream – including substances both illicit and otherwise. It’s often easy to forget that alcohol, marijuana, prescription painkillers and nicotine are drugs. Advertising and social acceptance aside, these are mood-altering, addictive substances that can and do affect fetal development.

Here’s how:

Alcohol: How much is too much?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), any amount of alcohol during pregnancy is too much. Drinking while pregnant creates a wide variety of mental and physical effects in children, including bone and organ abnormalities, vision and hearing problems and even developmental disorders like fetal alcohol syndrome.

Drinking during the first trimester appears to be the highest risk for these disorders. The AAP reports that drinking during this time raises the odds of giving birth to a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder 12 times higher. If drinking continues into the second trimester, the odds are increased 61 times.

Unfortunately, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports 18 percent of pregnant women drink during early pregnancy.

Marijuana use during pregnancy

Studies cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggest that exposure to THC – marijuana’s active ingredient – can have negative effects later in life. A 2010 study published in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology found children who had been exposed to marijuana in utero scored lower on tests measuring coordination and problem-solving than children who hadn’t been exposed.

ACOG estimates that between 2 and 5 percent of women use marijuana during pregnancy.

If you smoke, stop

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking while pregnant can result in premature birth, low birth rates and a greater chance of certain birth defects including cleft lip and palate. Worse, the CDC says that smoking during and after pregnancy is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome. Additional studies find that exposure to nicotine is also harmful during pregnancy.

The CDC’s 2011 Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System study found that 10 percent of women said they smoked during the third trimester. However, 55 percent of respondents reported quitting during their pregnancies.

Prescription painkillers are harmful

Researchers at the Baylor University Medical Center recently studied a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a drug-withdrawal syndrome occurring in babies exposed to narcotic painkillers during pregnancy. The researchers found that only 7 of every 1,000 babies admitted to an intensive care unit were affected by the syndrome in 2004. By 2013, the number of babies with the syndrome had increased to 27 of every 1,000.
An additional study conducted in the journal Pediatrics found that prescription painkillers were often prescribed during pregnancy; the study of mothers in Tennessee’s Medicaid program found that almost 30 percent of the mothers had used painkillers.

Finding help

Studies have shown time and time again that any kind of substance use during pregnancy is potentially harmful. The Sovereign Health Group is committed to providing treatment and counseling for anyone dealing with substance abuse problems. Our team of compassionate experts will tailor a treatment plan to the patient’s specific needs to ensure a successful, sober life. Please call our 24/7 helpline for more details.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at