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Substance use can affect anyone, especially pregnant people. However, not only do substances affect the individual who is pregnant, but they can also have lasting effects on babies. Understanding how substance use affects pregnancy can help pregnant people understand the risks and find the help they need to recover from addiction.

How Many Pregnant People Struggle With Substance Use?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ten percent of pregnant individuals use alcohol. However, the use of other substances is also common; roughly 40% of pregnant individuals report using substances other than alcohol. 

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Many people claim that alcohol can be consumed safely during pregnancy. From claiming that a single glass of wine is okay to anything under eight drinks is safe, pregnant people hear this information consistently. However, the CDC states, “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy.” 

When an individual consumes alcohol while pregnant, it passes through the umbilical cord to the fetus. This can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, as well as physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

When a person is exposed to alcohol before birth, they are at risk of developing a range of conditions known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The effects of FASDs can be physical, behavioral, or intellectual. A person with FASD may have the following:

  • Low body weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Attention difficulties
  • Poor memory
  • School difficulties
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Low IQ
  • Sleeping and sucking problems as an infant
  • Problems with the heart, kidney, or bones
  • Small head size
  • Abnormal facial features

Opioids and Pregnancy

Opioid use disorder (OUD) among pregnant people is a significant concern in the United States. According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2014, opioid abuse among pregnant people quadrupled. Using opioids during pregnancy can lead to problems such as preterm birth, stillbirth, maternal death, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). 

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

NAS occurs when an infant must undergo withdrawal from drugs due to an individual’s drug abuse during pregnancy. This most often occurs when a pregnant individual uses opioids. However, NAS can also occur when a pregnant individual abuses alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and caffeine.

Symptoms of NAS can develop immediately or up to 14 days after birth. The severity and type of symptoms will depend on what substances were used, how long they were used, and how often they were used. However, common withdrawal symptoms that occur in NAS include the following:

  • Blotchy skin color
  • 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
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting

Marijuana and Pregnancy

Marijuana use is prevalent among pregnant people. Some individuals use it to ease the effects of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which causes excessive vomiting and weight loss during pregnancy. Others are unaware of the effects of marijuana on fetuses. Despite the belief that marijuana is safe during pregnancy, the CDC states, “Marijuana use during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby’s health.”

When a pregnant individual uses marijuana, it passes through the body and can harm the individual and their baby’s development. More research is needed on the effects of marijuana during pregnancy. However, the CDC states that marijuana use can lead to lower birth weight and abnormal neurological development.

Exposure to marijuana smoke can also affect pregnant individuals and their babies. Secondhand marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke. THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, can also be passed to infants through secondhand smoke. 

The Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

StatPearls defines sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as “the abrupt and unexplained death of an infant less than [one]-year old.” Despite autopsies and thorough investigations, the death of the child cannot be explained. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), pregnant people who smoke and drink beyond the first trimester of pregnancy have infants who “have a twelvefold increased risk” for SIDS. 

Treatment During Pregnancy

If a pregnant individual is struggling with addiction while pregnant, treatment is the best option. The first step in treatment is often detox. Finding a professional detox facility during pregnancy is crucial, as miscarriage is a risk of withdrawal symptoms. 

For pregnant individuals struggling with OUD, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an option. According to the CDC, “treatment with methadone or buprenorphine for pregnant people with OUD, in conjunction with behavioral therapy and medical services” is recommended. However, there is limited research on the safety of these medications during pregnancy. A professional’s guidance can help pregnant individuals determine the best course of action for detox and treatment that ensures the parent’s and baby’s health. 

Treatment after detox should be catered to a pregnant individual’s specific needs. Not all treatment facilities are equipped to handle the unique needs of someone who is pregnant. Due to this, it is crucial to speak with facilities about their experience treating pregnant people. 

Substance abuse affects individuals who are pregnant and their babies. Alcohol, marijuana, opioids, and other substances can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, complications with development, and more. If you are pregnant and struggling with addiction, help is available. As West Coast Recovery Centers, we inspire change through innovative, traditional, and non-traditional treatment approaches. We tailor your treatment specifically to your needs to ensure you get the most out of your time with us and can succeed in recovery. Our outpatient options also allow flexibility of schedule to ensure you can meet your pregnancy needs. For more information on West Coast Recovery Centers’ program and how we can help you, call (760) 492-6509.