Drug Use During Pregnancy

What are the Effects of Taking Drugs While Pregnant?

If you’re worried about the consequences of using drugs while pregnant, know this: You are a good parent for worrying about your child. Find the answers and the resources you need to give your child the best start at life here.

Unplanned pregnancies often come at the most inopportune time. If you’ve come to this article, you probably know that firsthand. Whether you’re currently struggling with addiction or simply took drugs (prescribed or over-the-counter) before you knew you were pregnant, you’re worried about the possible effects of drugs while pregnant.

Will your actions harm your baby? Is there anything that can be done to reduce the effects of doing drugs while pregnant?

While we’ll tackle the answers to these questions below, we want you to know one thing: Only a doctor can provide the medical advice you’re looking for. The information below may be helpful, but it’s not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice.

Please contact a local medical professional for more information on the side effects of using drugs while pregnant. They can evaluate your situation and determine the safest path for your pregnancy moving forward.

If you are struggling with addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

What Happens if You Do Drugs While Pregnant?

Taking drugs while pregnant is a serious situation. Pregnancy is a complicated medical condition; what may have been fine to do beforehand (eat deli meat, exercise vigorously, etc.) is a completely different story when you have a baby growing inside of you. If you are using drugs while pregnant, the effects cannot be ignored.

The side effects of taking drugs while pregnant will vary based on your situation — what kind of drugs you use and how often. However, in most cases, there are a few grave consequences of this decision:

  • You harm yourself. Any drug carries the risk of side effects. And, if you’re taking illicit drugs like cocaine or meth, your usage puts your own health at risk. You can develop infections and transmitted diseases through sharing needles, you can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions and more. Pregnancy is risky enough; add in drug use, and you have the potential to make it much more dangerous.
  • You harm your baby. It goes without saying that drug use will put your child in danger. Anything that you take during pregnancy can be transmitted through the umbilical cord. Your child is still developing, and substances like drugs and alcohol can have severe impacts on that development. A child exposed to drugs in-utero will typically have lifelong challenges with cognitive and physical performance.
  • You make it harder to be the parent your child needs and deserves. If you are addicted to drugs and pregnant, it’s nearly impossible to prepare for your new arrival. Getting ready for a baby takes time and money, but drug usage can make it very difficult to do things like save for upcoming medical expenses, buy baby clothes and prepare a safe nursery for your child. And, if your usage continues after your baby’s birth, you simply cannot be the present and stable parent that your child deserves.
  • You put your right to parent at risk. There can be serious legal consequences of using drugs while pregnant. Any action that puts your child at risk could involve Child Protective Services. If you give birth while using drugs, or your child is born with traces of drugs in their systems, the hospital will usually call CPS, who will open up a case for you and your child and, typically, place your baby in foster care. Once your child is in the foster care system, you will need to go through several legal steps before you can reclaim custody.

Remember: There is Always Help

If you’re using drugs while pregnant and can’t seem to stop, you’re not alone. According to one 2012 study, about 6 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. use illicit drugs.

But there is hope — in one study, 83 percent of pregnant women who were using cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine or marijuana were able to stop during pregnancy.

All that you need is to find help.

Reaching out to a medical professional can help you minimize the effects of drugs while pregnant. Whether it’s your local obstetrician or a rehabilitation center, contact them to start your detoxing process. They can help you safely come off drugs during the remainder of your pregnancy and get you the medical and psychological assistance you may need.

If you are worried about your ability to sober up and give your child the life they deserve, you can always choose a temporary guardianship or adoption to protect them.

  • A temporary guardianship allows you to place your child into the custody of someone you trust. If you need extra time after delivery to improve your situation and prepare for bringing your child home, a guardianship avoids foster care and lets a loved one take care of your baby, however long you need them to.
  • Making an adoption plan for your child before birth avoids their placement into foster care, where life can be full of unpredictable ups and downs. You can choose a solid, stable family for your child to grow up with, and you can have a lifelong relationship with them through open adoption. If you need to focus on your own health first, adoption may be the best path for you and your baby’s health and well-being.

Whatever you do, if you’re worried about the side effects of taking drugs while pregnant, you need to plan ahead of time. Reading this article has already started you in the process. We urge you to reach out to someone you trust — a loved one or a local medical professional — to get the help you need.

Remember: You have nothing to be ashamed of. You may have made some bad choices, but you will be respected now for taking the steps necessary to protect yourself and your baby.

Again, if you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). They can connect you with the resources you need to get help.