What Are the Risks of Using Substances During Pregnancy?

Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach

There are many myths about substance use during pregnancy. Some people believe that only using certain substances or only using them at certain times during the pregnancy poses risks to an expectant mother and unborn child. Unfortunately, the reality is that all substance use during pregnancy carries risks for your fetus, your future child, the success of the pregnancy, your rights as a parent and even your own health.

What Harm Can Substances Have On the Fetus?

Substance use during pregnancy can have many negative repercussions for your unborn child. According to a study on substance use during pregnancy, this is true during each trimester, and many different substances can be harmful to your developing baby. When you use substances such as tobacco, alcohol, cannabis and other illicit drugs during pregnancy, they can cause a number of consequences for your fetus, including:

  • Birth defects
  • Shorter gestational period
  • Preterm labor
  • Damage to the umbilical cord
  • Placental abruption
  • Impaired growth of fetal brain
  • Small head circumference
  • Premature rupture of membranes

Can I Risk Losing My Baby if I Use Substances While Pregnant?

Something many expectant mothers do not consider is the risk of losing their unborn child. Yet smoking, drinking, using marijuana, using illicit drugs or abusing prescriptions can have terminal consequences for your pregnancy. Not only can you lose your baby, but losing your child can also cause health problems for you. According to the same study cited above, the use of substances while pregnant is associated with:

  • Higher rate of ectopic pregnancy
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Greater chance of a stillbirth

How Do Substances Harm My Baby After Birth?

In cases where the fetus survives despite substance abuse, the child faces very serious and potentially lifelong consequences from your substance use. Addiction has the power not only to take the life of an unborn baby but also to cause chronic and adverse health impacts after birth.

Some of the short and long-term consequences of maternal substance abuse on a child that reaches birth include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature delivery
  • Small size
  • Respiratory and ear infections
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Postnatal withdrawal syndrome
  • Behavioral dysfunction
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Impaired growth of brain
  • Speech and language challenges
  • Executive functioning deficits
  • Poor academic and developmental performance
  • Psychosocial consequences as an adult
  • Infant mortality and sudden infant death syndrome
  • Environmental effects of maternal substance use, such as inadequate nutrition, lack of access to medical care, poverty and domestic violence

These consequences impact the child, the mother and the family and place a significant burden on society in the form of healthcare, educational services, the criminal justice system and more. These burdens can be avoided by you seeking help for your substance abuse.

How Can Substances Harm Me While I Am Pregnant?

In addition to the many typical health risks that substance abuse can cause, pregnant women face additional serious health concerns when using substances during pregnancy. Some of these additional health risks include:

  • Gestational hypertension
  • Third trimester bleeding
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Maternal death

What Are the Legal Risks of Substance Use During or After Pregnancy?

Many risks affect your legal status when you use substances during or after pregnancy. For example, there are legal risks of being caught using or selling illicit substances, driving under the influence or other related behaviors to substance abuse while pregnant that could result in incarceration during your pregnancy and your child consequently being born in the correctional system.

Substance abuse during pregnancy commonly leads to temporary or permanent loss of custody. This can occur as a direct result of substances on their health, your inability to care or provide for them or abuse or neglect that occurs due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. No matter how it happens, losing a child is an incredibly painful and traumatic event.

How Can Treatment and Sobriety During Pregnancy Help Me?

Seeking treatment to become sober during pregnancy can change the outcome of your child’s life and even save both their life and your own. The choice you make today to pick up the phone and ask for help can lower the risks of health problems for both you and your unborn child. Whether you are impacting their physical or emotional health or that of your own, your choice to seek help during pregnancy can be life-altering. Don’t take chances with either of your lives. Now is the perfect time to access the help you need to change the trajectory of your family.

DiscoveryMD helps those struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders take back control of their lives. We have specific support groups for women, as we recognize that there are particular needs and challenges such as pregnancy and motherhood that are impacted by addiction. DiscoveryMD creates an individualized treatment plan for you to be able to heal from addiction. Contact us today and begin a new life for you and your baby.

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