Doctors have known for decades now that pregnant women who use drugs during pregnancy put their unborn babies at risk for a host of fetal abnormalities and prenatal death. Even common over-the-counter medications can be harmful to a developing baby. Doctors do everything in their power to stop drug use while pregnant women are under their care. They administer blood and urine tests to check for the presence of drugs. They also refer women to rehabilitation services if they find that their patients are using illegal drugs while pregnant.

Chronic drug users who fall pregnant are the most at-risk for having babies who suffer from physical defects, cognitive challenges, and severe retardation. While many hardcore drug users compromise their fertility with their drug use, others still have normal reproductive function and can easily become pregnant if they fail to use birth control. To make matters worse, the presence of drugs in their bloodstreams can compromise a pregnancy from the beginning. Even if the mother stops using drugs while she is pregnant, the presence of drugs and alcohol in her body when she conceived could undermine the health and safety of her unborn child.

When mothers who use drugs are sincere in their desire to stop using while they are pregnant, they can ask their obstetricians about being referred to rehab services. When they are in rehab or under the care of a rehabilitation specialist, these mothers will be monitored closely to ensure that they stop using entirely prior to delivery. They also may be given medications to help wean them off the more deadly drugs that they are addicted to currently. Methadone is one medication that is used to help people wean themselves off heroin. As much as doctors want their pregnant patients to be drug-free, they understand that in reality they will occasionally treat women who are addicted to drugs. These patients require close monitoring and special intervention to ensure that their babies will suffer as few complications from the drug use as possible.

Long Term Effects Of Drug Use While Pregnant

One of the best ways to dissuade women from using drugs centers on educating them about the long-term effects of drug use during pregnancy. When women learn what drugs can do to their unborn babies, they may be encouraged to avoid using illegal substances entirely. The most obvious danger from using drugs during pregnancy is prenatal death. When a woman uses drugs, she fills her bloodstream with toxins like ammonia and methane that can be deadly to a growing pregnancy. By inhaling or injecting these toxins into her own body, she in essence is also causing her unborn baby to ingest the drugs, as anything that is in her bloodstream will cross over to the baby’s placenta. If the drugs build up to a certain toxicity, the baby could die in utero.

Another long-term effect that drugs have on developing fetuses centers on physical abnormalities. Babies born to drug users could be missing limbs, have misshapen faces and skulls, and even be missing internal organs like a brain stem or a liver. When they are missing important body parts, these children come into the world at a disadvantage. They will need specialized services for the remainder of their lives just to be able to function at a relatively normal level in society. In severe cases of long-term drug use on a pregnancy, the baby may need to be institutionalized because of how extensive his or her deformities are.

Babies born to drug users also routinely suffer from cognitive and mental difficulties. They may be unable to speak, hear, see, or comprehend simple language. They also may be unable to attend school like a normal child. These individuals require special services and sometimes must be institutionalized after their parents are no longer capable of caring for them. These difficulties can be avoided when mothers avoid using drugs while pregnant.

Law Against Drug Use While Pregnant

Until recently, few laws existed to prevent or discourage mothers from using drugs while they were pregnant. Women could do pretty much anything they wanted while they were pregnant with little consequence. Today, several states have laws on the book that make using drugs during pregnancy a crime. For example, states like Arkansas and Colorado have laws that include drug use during pregnancy a crime that violates the child welfare act. If a pregnant woman is caught using drugs, she can have her parental rights terminated and her baby taken away from her at birth. She also could go to jail.

Other states have similar laws that make using drugs during pregnancy a crime, although most states give the mother a chance to rehabilitate herself before her rights to her child are terminated. For example, pregnant women in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are allowed to enter rehab and get clean prior to giving birth. These states even cover the expenses for a woman’s drug rehab to help her overcome her drug problem before delivering. Alternatively, some states make it a law that doctors have to test mothers for drug use during prenatal services. Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota obstetricians must by law administer blood tests to determine if pregnant patients in their care are using drugs. If they are, these patients must be reported to the state and given a chance to get clean before delivering.

As more states get laws on the books to protect unborn babies from drug exposure, pregnant mothers should also realize that anytime they use illegal drugs they are automatically breaking the law anyway. All 50 states have laws making the use of drugs like cocaine and heroin illegal. Even if they are not punished for putting their babies at risk, these mothers face legal action for using and having in their possession drugs that are against the law in the first place. They can stay out of jail and give birth to healthy children by not using illegal drugs at all.