Pregnancy and Addiction

Share on Facebook

doctorIn 2013 alone, almost four million babies were born in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Every single one of these babies relied on an adult for help. After all, small babies can’t fend for themselves. They can’t walk, talk, eat, stay warm, or do anything else that’s required for a long life. Babies need the help of adults in order to make it to adulthood themselves.

The help babies need doesn’t begin at birth. In fact, babies need help from their mothers before they’re even born. During pregnancy, these new lives rely on mothers to provide warmth, nutrition, and safety. Everything they need comes from their mothers.

Babies rely on that help even when their birth is unplanned. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, according to The Shriver Report, and the babies that emerge from these pregnancies also need a safe environment in which to grow.

Unfortunately, whether the pregnancy is expected or unplanned, some mothers make decisions that are difficult for the health of their babies. Specifically, some mothers choose to take in drugs and alcohol while they’re pregnant. Those who do could be harming their little babies. But with help, these mothers can overcome their addictions before the baby’s birth, and they could create an environment of health and healing that’s just nourishing for a small and new life.

Drugs During Pregnancy

crystal meth and pregnancyThe March of Dimes suggests that about one woman in 20 takes street drugs during pregnancy. Far more women take in alcohol during pregnancy, and it’s quite possible that some women take prescription drugs while they’re pregnant.

Those women who do take in drugs may think that they’re impacting their own life and health while sparing their young babies from any sort of impact. In reality, almost every single drug a mother chooses to take could also impact a young life. According to the American Pregnancy Association, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin are all known to cross the placenta. That means that they move from the mother’s body into the baby’s body. Others don’t cross the placenta but damage the health of the mother, and when that happens, that could put the health of the baby at risk.

When drugs do cross the placenta and babies are exposed during pregnancy, they can emerge with symptoms of addiction, which might include:

  • Extreme fussiness
  • Unwillingness to eat
  • Tremors
  • Low body temperature

Addicted babies lose access to drugs when they’re born, which means they can be plunged into symptoms of withdrawal just as soon as they emerge from the birth canal.

Drugs have also been associated with very serious birth defects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests, for example, that babies born to mothers who took cocaine are often born too early, and they may have low birth weights and smaller heads than babies born at the right time. Researchers have also suggested that cocaine-exposed babies may have subtle cognitive difficulties, which could make it hard for these small children to learn or to succeed in the workplace. Their drug use sets them up for this kind of life.

Learn More+

Women who drink can give birth to children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says these children may have physical defects, but they might also have mental or behavioral deficiencies, and they might have learning disabilities, too. Children like this might not grow out of their difficulties. They might deal with these challenges for the rest of life, due to the exposure they endured during pregnancy.

Most mothers are aware that they shouldn’t use drugs during pregnancy. It’s something that’s been discussed on television, in movies, in magazines, and on websites. Posters about addiction in pregnancy often plaster the walls of doctors’ offices, and even mass transit vehicles like buses might have posters about the risk of abuse in mothers.

But some mothers persist, and sometimes, that has to do with the habits these women held before they even got pregnant. For example, in a study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, researchers found that women who binge drank prior to pregnancy were more likely to drink during pregnancy, when compared to women who didn’t have pre-pregnancy binge habit. The patterns a woman had before the baby got started tend to stick with her.

Addiction could be the cause of that habit persistence. As much as a mother might want to stay safe for her baby and as much as she might want to change her habits, she might find real healing hard to accomplish. She might struggle to change the habits she’s held for years and years, and she might not know how to overcome her own cravings for drugs. This doesn’t make her a bad person. It makes her a person in need of addiction help. With that kind of assistance, she really can get better.

Non-Pharmaceutical Options

Since so many drugs cross from a mother’s body to a child’s body, some types of addictions are best handled without the aid of medications. Many of these options have the proven ability to help addicted people in need.

Addiction counseling, for example, can be an amazing resource for addicted women. In counseling sessions, women have the opportunity to examine their lives and their choices, focusing on the mental health triggers that may have led them to drug abuse. In these sessions, they have the opportunity to learn very powerful skills they can use to fight back against these stressors, so they’ll overcome the challenges without the use of drugs. For women in need, this can be an amazing help.

Similarly, some women find that it’s really helpful to spend some time in addiction support group meetings. Rather than working with an authority figure, like a counselor, they can learn from their peers. In each meeting, they have the chance to find out more about what others have found helpful and how others have improved. That can be an amazing thing for women who are looking for role models. A support group can make that happen.

Medication Support

As much as non-pharmaceutical options can be great for pregnant women with addictions, there are some addictive substances that cause intense chemical transformations, both in a woman and in her baby. When that happens, women might need the help of medications.

For example, women addicted to heroin might go through intense withdrawal when they attempt to stop using, and that withdrawal process could put the life of an unborn baby at risk. Similarly, women who attempt to quit heroin might put their unborn babies into withdrawal, even if they don’t experience withdrawal personally.

Medications can help, as they ease the transition from addiction to sobriety. One such medication, buprenorphine, has been proven safe for women and their unborn babies in a National Institute on Drug Abuse study. By giving this medication, professionals can ease withdrawal and make things better for mothers and babies.

Some mothers might also need medications to ease mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety. These illnesses can impair a mother’s ability to get sober, and that ongoing drug use could be terrible for a baby. Medications can provide a mother with mental calm, so she can focus on her recovery. Medical providers can look for the right mix of drugs, so people can get the help they need without harming the unborn.

Finding Help

finding helpAdmitting to an addiction issue before the baby is born could be the bravest thing a women ever does during her lifetime. And it could be just the start of her path toward a fulfilling motherhood.

By exposing her addiction, she’ll get the help she needs to withdraw from drugs safely, and by working with a team of professionals, she can develop habits that can help her to deal with the challenges of motherhood without relying on the help of drugs. When her baby comes, she’ll be both strong and clean. She’ll be ready to help her baby grow up healthy and happy.

Women can start that process almost anywhere. Some programs provide intensive physical help for pregnant women, paired with in-depth addiction care, so women can deal with healthy pregnancies and healthy recovery in the same place. Others provide addiction care only, with outreach to medical providers, so women will have two teams of experts helping with the healing. A third group of facilities provides care for women by women, so an addicted women has a group of peers helping her through her pregnancy.

Any of these options could be good for women in need. The key is to get started. The sooner a woman amends her habits and starts to build a healthy life, the better off her baby will be. And the better off she’ll be, too.

We’d like to help you to get started. Please call us, and we’ll help you search for a facility that can help you, your baby, and your family. Everything you tell us will be kept confidential. We just want you to get better. Please call and we’ll get started.


Rehab International is a service provided by Foundations Recovery Network. As part of the Foundations Recovery Network, our goal is to provide science-based treatments to individuals suffering from issues of addiction and mental illness.

When you call you will be connected to a member of the Foundations Recovery Network who will assist in providing you with any questions you may have regarding the treatment process.

The treatment directory on Rehab International is created using resources made available in the public domain. If you would like a listing removed or edited please contact us. If you are trying to reach a resource listing on one of the pages, please contact them directly through their website or contact information provided.

JCAHO The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) is the national evaluation and certifying agency for health care organization and programs in the United States. JCAHO strives to improve health care for the public. FRN is proud to be affiliated with several JCAHO accredited facilities.

You're not alone. We're here to help, 24/7. Please call: 877-345-3281