Drug Use During Pregnancy

What to Know About Using Cocaine While Pregnant

Learn everything you need to know about the effects of using cocaine while pregnant, moving forward with a healthy pregnancy and being the parent that your child deserves.

You already know that doing cocaine while pregnant is a dangerous and risky choice. But, when you’re addicted to cocaine when pregnant, you need a bit more than scary statistics to help you quit.

Finding assistance for cocaine use while pregnant can be intimidating. Will people judge you for your addiction? Will your baby be taken away from you? How can you get the help you need?

You can find all the answers to these questions (and more) below. However, if you are in need of urgent help, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). They can connect you to the local resources you need for free and with absolutely no judgement.

You’re in an impossible situation, but remember this: By seeking out help for taking cocaine while pregnant, you’re taking the first step to being the kind of parent your child deserves.

The Risks and Effects of Using Cocaine While Pregnant

We know that cocaine use often stems from an out-of-control addiction. It’s a disease that’s not your fault — but you can take the first steps toward improving your situation. There’s no better motivation for doing so than the child growing inside you right now.

Cocaine is dangerous enough for users, but it is even more dangerous for the baby you’re carrying. Everything that you ingest during pregnancy is passed along to your child through your bloodstream, and being on cocaine while pregnant can affect the baby in numerous ways, including:

  • Lower oxygen levels, leading to increased fetal heart rate and blood pressure
  • Heart defects
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Disruption of autonomic and central nervous systems
  • Defects to the genitals, brain, internal organs and kidneys
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Microcephaly
  • Neurodevelopmental delays
  • Miscarriage

One of the biggest risks of taking cocaine while pregnant is the chance that your child will be born dependent on cocaine and experience withdrawal after birth. Withdrawal is a serious medical condition; if your child is already weakened from cocaine effects in utero, it can be harder for them to overcome side effects such as irritability, muscle spasms, tremors, difficulties feeding and more. Cocaine stays in a baby’s system for a longer time than an adult’s.

The more frequently you are doing cocaine while pregnant, the higher the chance that your child will be born with some of these potential side effects.

I Did Cocaine Before I Knew I Was Pregnant — What Now?

Not all women who use cocaine while pregnant are struggling with addiction. In fact, many women are in the exact same position as you, thinking, “I was doing cocaine before I knew I was pregnant — but I want to stop now.”

We want to applaud you on this decision. Choosing to stop substance abuse is never easy, even if you’re not addicted. But there is help.

Here are a few steps you should take to minimize the effects of using cocaine while pregnant early on:

Step 1: Talk to a medical professional. The only way to determine the long-term effects of cocaine while pregnant is to talk to an obstetrician. They can evaluate your baby’s health and decide which preemptive steps need to be taken at this point. The earlier you find and speak with an obstetrician, the better your chances of minimizing the effects of cocaine while pregnant.

Step 2: Get professional help. Even if you aren’t struggling with addiction, quitting an illicit substance is not always easy. Having someone on your side through this journey will make a huge difference. If you haven’t yet, call the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357) or search for a treatment facility near you.

Step 3: Continue a healthy pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, it’s not enough to just avoid bad substances. You must also actively take care of yourself. This includes eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate exercise and more. Your obstetrician should be able to give you some tips and suggestions for your personal situation.

If you’re freaking out, thinking, “I did cocaine before I knew I was pregnant,” remember that there is hope. If you only used cocaine a few times during pregnancy, it is less likely that your baby will be affected — and, by taking the initiative now to get clean, you are being the best mother you can be in your situation.

Your Options if You’re Currently Taking Cocaine While Pregnant

On the other hand, maybe you did cocaine while pregnant early on — but you’re still struggling to stop during the remainder of your pregnancy.

You’re not alone. About 5% of pregnant women use one or more addictive substances, and there are about 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies every year. You may feel like there is no help for you, but there is. It’s all about knowing where to look.

If you’re taking cocaine while pregnant and are concerned of the risks for you and your unborn baby, the first thing you should do is contact the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). They can help you find a treatment center near you. There, professionals will able to guide you through the rest of your pregnancy in the safest manner for you and your child. They will prescribe medication and monitor you to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms in you and your unborn baby.

While it’s great that you’re considering the effects of using cocaine while pregnant now, you also need to consider the future. What will you do after your baby is born? Can you be the supportive parent they deserve — or are you worried about relapsing and putting your child in danger?

It’s important to make a plan for your child now, rather than wait until their birth. If your child is born with traces of cocaine in their system, it’s a very real possibility that your local Department of Child Services will take custody of them. They will likely be placed with foster parents, and you will need to go through several steps before you can reclaim custody.

However, there are a few steps you can take now to avoid this placement into the foster care system:

1. Temporary guardianship

You can make plans now for your unborn child to be placed in the custody of a friend or family member after birth. This way, you trust that your child is being cared for by a loved one while you take the time to sober up and be the parent you need to be. Once you have improved your situation, you can take back custody of your child and raise them.

2. Adoption

If you are worried about your long-time sobriety, or you simply know in your heart you’re not ready to be the parent your child deserves, you might choose to place your child with another family through adoption. This is a permanent decision, and you will terminate your parental rights, but it may give you the peace of mind you’re looking for. You can choose the parents you want for your child, and you can have a relationship with them moving forward. And, if your child will be born with special needs from the effects of cocaine while pregnant, there are plenty of parents who can provide the care your child needs.

Doing cocaine while pregnant can seem like an impossible situation, but always remember that there is hope. Working with medical professionals can minimize the effects of cocaine when pregnant and give your child the start at life they deserve. Don’t hesitate to reach out — you are not alone, and there is always someone willing to help.

The information in this article is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. Please reach out to a local medical professional for assistance.