Being pregnant and addicted to heroin is an impossible situation. You want to do what is best for you and your child, but your disease is battle enough all on its own.
Fortunately, there is hope. If you are taking heroin while pregnant, you are not alone — and there are professionals who can help. You just need to take the first step.
If you are using heroin while pregnant, your first call should be to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). They can connect you with local resources to keep you and your baby safe during the remainder of your pregnancy.
In the meantime, find answers to some of your most pressing questions below. Please remember that the information in this article is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. Find a local medical professional for the personalized healthcare you need.
1. What are heroin’s effects on pregnant women and their babies?
When you’re pregnant, everything that you ingest into your body is passed to your child through your bloodstream and the placenta. All of the effects you experience from using heroin are amplified when it comes to your unborn baby.
Doing heroin while pregnant exposes your child to increased risks of:
- Birth defects
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Small head circumference
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
But, does heroin use while pregnant make a child prone to addiction?
Yes. This phenomenon is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
When heroin in your body passes to your unborn baby, it can cause your child to become dependent on the drug, as well. Upon birth, your baby will experience all the same symptoms of heroin withdrawal, including:
- Excessive crying
- Seizures and tremors
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- And possible death
The type and intensity of symptoms your baby may experience depends on a few things: how long and how often you used heroin while pregnant, how your body broke down heroin, and whether your child was born full-term or prematurely. If you worried about the long-term effects of heroin use while pregnant, please reach out to a local obstetrician or treatment facility. They can evaluate your personal situation and help you get the healthcare you and your child desperately need.
2. Can you quit heroin cold turkey while pregnant?
Oftentimes, women who are using heroin while pregnant do so before they ever notice a missed period. When they discover their pregnancy, they worry about how their past actions may have affected the child growing inside them. Determined to quit, they may throw out all of their drug paraphernalia and swear to stay sober for their unborn children.
This is an honorable idea — but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Drug addiction is a serious disease and, when you suddenly stop using a substance your body has become used to, you put yourself and your unborn baby in danger.
You cannot simply quit heroin out of the blue during pregnancy. Doing so would put you through heroin withdrawal while pregnant. Withdrawal is no joke; it will impact you physically and emotionally in ways you never expect. And those symptoms will be that much harder on your baby.
Suddenly detoxing from heroin while pregnant can cause stillbirth, preterm labor and even miscarriage. We applaud your commitment to do what is best for your child, but do not attempt to quit heroin cold-turkey. Instead, reach out to a medical professional for guidance through this withdrawal process.
3. Where can you find counseling and advice for a pregnant heroin addict?
Committing to detoxing from heroin while pregnant is one thing. Finding local, affordable treatment for pregnant heroin addicts is another.
Despite the fact that opioid addiction in the U.S. is skyrocketing, it’s often difficult to find a treatment center that can provide the care you need. Heroin withdrawal while pregnant is a complicated process, and you’ll need to work with professionals experienced in this subject. But help is available.
You can start by calling the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). The hotline is staffed 24/7 to connect you with confidential information services. The hotline workers will provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations to help you get clean. You can also look for a local treatment center online.
You could also reach out to a local pregnancy crisis center or your obstetrician. They may be able to provide referrals to trusted local centers providing support and advice for pregnant heroin addicts like yourself.
Remember: You are more than your addiction, and you will never be judged for trying to get the help you (and your unborn baby) need.
4. Do you go to jail if using heroin while pregnant?
Women often worry about getting help for their heroin addiction during pregnancy. They worry that they will be arrested for using drugs or that the state will take away their baby after birth.
Please don’t let this be a deterrent for getting the help you need. Many times, if you contact a licensed health professional to start detoxing from heroin while pregnant, you will be protected from serious legal repercussions.
Every state has different laws, but it’s rare for a woman to be criminally prosecuted during her pregnancy for using illicit substances. Instead, the most common convictions for using heroin while pregnant come after a child is born. If your baby tests positive for heroin or another illegal substance upon their birth, the hospital will likely call Child Protective Services, and you may or may not be charged with child endangerment.
All that said, getting help as early in your pregnancy as possible helps reduce these risks. When you take the initiative to do what is best for your baby, you can put support systems in place for you and your child.
Remember that we are not legal experts. Please speak with a local attorney or healthcare professional for more information on laws regarding drug use during pregnancy.
5. I’m a pregnant heroin addict — what about the baby I’m carrying?
We know you’re in a tough situation. But, by coming to this page, you’ve shown that you are ready to do what is best for you and your child, no matter how difficult it may be.
As mentioned above, the first step is always to get help. A treatment center and medical professional are necessary tools in safely and efficiently detoxing from heroin while pregnant. They can start you on the path to recovery and to being the best parent you can for your child.
However, if you’re addicted to heroin during pregnancy, you’ll need to think about the future, too. There’s a chance your child will be placed in the custody of Child Protective Services if they are born with traces of heroin in their system, and reunification can take a great deal of time for anyone (but especially recovering addicts) to complete.
There are a few steps you can take to prevent your baby’s placement into the foster care system:
- Temporary guardianship: If you will need some extra time after birth to detox and improve your situation, temporary guardianship may be the solution. You can place your baby in the custody of a loved one, and they can take care of your child as long as necessary. When you’re ready to be a parent, you can retake custody of your child.
- Adoption: If you are worried about your long-term sobriety and cannot find a safe home for your child, you might consider placing them for adoption. This can also be a solution if your child is born with severe special needs from heroin exposure, and you’re unable to properly care for them. Adoption is a permanent legal decision to terminate your parental rights and place your child with a family who is prepared to parent them. You can also maintain contact for years to come through open adoption. These are benefits that foster care doesn’t provide; in foster care, you don’t get to choose your child parents, and long-term contact is not guaranteed. Contact an agency like American Adoptions for more information.
We know you’re in an overwhelming position right now, but don’t ever forget that there is help. You are not alone; all you need to do is take the first steps toward a better future. Contacting and working with a medical professional as early in your pregnancy as possible can give you and your child the support you need to start your lives together.