Health Topics

Drug Use

Drug Use

Research shows that use of tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs by pregnant women can have severe health consequences for infants. Many substances pass easily through the placenta, so substances that a pregnant woman takes also reach the fetus.  Recent research also shows that smoking tobacco or marijuana, taking prescription pain relievers, or using illegal drugs during pregnancy is associated with double or even triple the risk of stillbirth. Regular use of some drugs can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), in which the baby goes through withdrawal upon birth. The type and severity of an infant's withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug(s) used, how long and how often the birth mother used, how her body breaks the drug down, and whether the infant was born full term or prematurely.

Symptoms of drug withdrawal in a newborn can develop immediately or up to 14 days after birth and can include:

  • Blotchy skin coloring
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive or high-pitched crying
  • Abnormal sucking reflex
  • Fever
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Slow weight gain
  • Stuffy nose and sneezing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting

Effects of using some drugs could be long-term and possibly fatal to the baby.  These include:

  • Birth defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Small head circumference
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Marijuana Use and Pregnancy

  • Marijuana use during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby’s health. The chemicals in marijuana (in particular, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) pass through your system to your baby and can harm your baby’s development.
  • The chemicals in any form of marijuana may be bad for your baby. This includes: marijuana that can be ingested (eaten or drunk); creams or lotions that are applied to skin; marijuana that is smoked, vaped or dabbed.
  • Research shows that using marijuana while you are pregnant can cause low birth weight in newborns.
     

Opioid Use During Pregnancy

Use of opioids (prescription pain medication for moderate to severe pain) during pregnancy can affect women and their babies. Opioid exposure during pregnancy has been linked to negative health effects for both mothers and their babies, including:

  • Maternal death
  • Poor fetal growth
  • Preterm birth
  • Stillbirth
  • Possible specific birth defects
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome