The Effect of Drugs on Unborn Babies

The Effect of Drugs on Unborn Babies

Whether you’re planning to embrace motherhood or discover that you are pregnant, your world is suddenly filled with a newfound joy and happiness. But at the same time, if you are caught in the web of substance abuse, you know that it’s time to reach out and seek help. If you let the fear of being exposed or engulfed by social stigma take over, you must understand that battling substance abuse and seeking intervention at the right time can make all the difference between having a healthy baby and giving birth to a child with serious birth defects and other complications.

drug and babies

The use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord and placenta (i.e., the layer of tissue and blood vessels lining the uterus) become the lifeline for the developing fetus and filter the essential nutrients and oxygen from the mother to the growing infant. When a woman who is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs becomes pregnant, the harmful chemicals and compounds in these substances can reach the baby via the placenta and affect its growth. It can even affect the placenta itself and hinder the path of nutrients and removal of waste and toxins.


The use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy have long-term implications that do not stop at childbirth. Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) can be seen in babies who are born to mothers addicted to alcohol and drugs, particularly opioids. Complications in babies who have been exposed to alcohol or drugs during the prenatal period can manifest in the form of learning problems, behavioral disorders, developmental delays, a greater risk of premature death due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other forms.

Abstaining from drugs and alcohol can significantly reduce the risk of premature labor, miscarriage, stillbirth, and placental abruption. Proper medical intervention and treatment at drug rehab centers can alleviate the risk of developmental problems and serious birth defects like fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), neurological defects, facial deformities such as cleft palate, and deformities of the skull like an abnormally small head.

Fetal Health and Common Drugs of Abuse

Some common drugs of abuse include heroin, cocaine, marijuana, prescription drugs, and alcohol.

According to The Merck Manual, exposure to alcohol is the primary cause of birth defects, and pregnant women who consume alcohol are almost 50% more likely to suffer a miscarriage and have a baby with low birth weight. Alcohol consumed during any stage of pregnancy can lead to developmental defects and congenital abnormalities as it is a known teratogen; the central nervous system is sensitive to teratogens. Alcohol use during pregnancy could also cause stillbirth, FAS leading to neurological deficits, low fetal birth weight, and a host of other complications. You should seriously consider getting treatment before you plan your pregnancy. While it is difficult to drop all familial responsibilities and go away for treatment, outpatient alcohol rehab and drug rehab in New Jersey provide the option of accessing treatment while living at home.

Pregnant women who “shoot up” heroin intravenously are exposed to the risk of communicable diseases, while the fetus can suffer from fetal growth restriction, birth defects, and opioid dependence resulting in withdrawal syndrome after birth.

The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that prescription drugs such as sedatives and opioid pain relievers can have an adverse impact on pregnant women. Babies born to mothers who are addicted to opioids show an increased rate of neural tube defects, neonatal withdrawal syndrome, and defects of the spinal cord and brain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists hydrocephalus, glaucoma, congenital heart defects, spina bifida, and gastroschisis as potential birth defects that can be seen in expectant mothers who take opioid analgesics or drugs containing opioids (like Suboxone).

The Importance of Drug Rehab

Shedding your inhibitions and getting in touch with a detox center in New Jersey is the first positive step in achieving sobriety during pregnancy. A comprehensive evidence-based treatment program at a detox center helps you win the battle against cravings or triggers, manage potential complications and risks, and relieve withdrawal symptoms.

The effect of a particular drug on a fetus is based on the fetus’s stage of development, the purity or strength and dose of the drug taken, and several other factors. A drug rehab program can be customized as doctors and support staff analyze the needs of each individual and draw up the best treatment plan beneficial to the mother and her child. For instance, a woman using heroin can look at a heroin rehab program tailored to suit her requirements and ease the recovery process. Or if a pregnant woman takes methadone, she can get in touch with New Jersey methadone clinics for therapeutic drug monitoring, regular check-ups for maternal withdrawal symptoms, and empiric adjustments of dosage during pregnancy.


Drug Detox

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cautions that addiction to drugs and alcohol brings in its wake physical dependence, and going ‘cold turkey’ can result in complications and withdrawal symptoms that may be life-threatening. A woman undergoes changes in terms of metabolism and body chemistry. This, in turn, impacts her withdrawal timelines. The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms depend on how long a person has been taking drugs, the type and quantity or dose used, the method used (i.e. inhaled, oral or injected), and numerous genetic, environmental, and biological factors. Timelines published by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services state that, typically, it takes 6 to 60 hours for the onset of symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal to manifest in expectant mothers, and 12 to 72 hours for symptoms linked to opioids, as seen in the case of suboxone withdrawal.

If you are looking for specific deaddiction programs in New Jersey like heroin rehab or trying to combat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal or suboxone withdrawal, drug detox or medically assisted detox programs can provide the requisite care and support you need to complete your program successfully. Or, if you are worried about methadone pharmacokinetics, you can contact methadone clinics to work on split-dosing regimens to achieve a more sustained serum concentration of methadone as well as improve your compliance in terms of completing the maintenance program.

Ambulatory Outpatient or Home-Based Detox Programs

the impact of addiction on children

If you have small children to look after and staying away from home is not an option, you can explore ambulatory outpatient detox programs in NJ offered by your local hospital or drug treatment center. The objectives of such programs involve helping a person manage withdrawal symptoms in a safe and supportive environment, monitoring the person’s mood swings, providing early intervention in case of adverse consequences, educating patients about the course and timeframe of withdrawal and the possibility of enduring symptoms, maintaining a commitment to withdrawal, drawing up a plan to stay clean, and coordinating with various support networks for effective aftercare. Ambulatory outpatient detox programs such as outpatient alcohol rehab can be successful if a person lives in a drug-free, stable and supportive environment at home, remains committed to withdrawal, and does not have any medical complications that require round-the-clock monitoring or treatment in a hospital setting, among other factors.

Outpatient detox programs in New Jersey offer greater flexibility, particularly for pregnant women who wish to continue working or studying. Women who sign up for outpatient detox programs can choose to attend meetings and counseling sessions at any time of the day and/or evening, and go back to their home at night; however, the recommendation by the National Institute on Drug Abuse clearly states that the duration of treatment must last for a minimum period of 90 days.


Rehab centers walk with you down the road to recovery and support you at every step. Individual counseling sessions with therapists, cognitive behavioral therapy, peer-to-peer support groups, group therapy sessions, workshops giving advice on life skills, classes on parenting and prenatal care, pregnancy education and counseling, assessment and therapy or treatment for co-occurring disorders, 12-step programming, and a host of other supportive measures can offer you and your baby the best chance at a full recovery. Let this be a journey of continued recovery so you can enjoy the newfound joys of motherhood and sobriety.


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