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When a woman is carrying a child, most would consider it a known fact that one must refrain from alcohol and drug use for the entire duration of their pregnancy. Tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and many prescription medications are known to produce severe health consequences for newborns that can last a lifetime. Some research states that a glass of wine once in a while does not have any negative effect on the child — but is this really be true? While it’s absolutely safer to refrain from using at all, it is important to know the effects of substance use during pregnancy. 

How Drugs Affect Gestation

Substances of any kind pass easily through the placenta. In pregnant women, the placenta provides a fetus with important nutrients and oxygen while taking away waste and carbon dioxide through the umbilical cord. What a mother eats, breathes, and drinks directly impacts a baby’s growth and development. Not only do these factors affect healthy birth weight, but they also affect brain development and reduce risks of long-term birth defects. When a baby is introduced to substance use regularly, the mother and baby are likely to become dependent on the drug. Drug use of any kind during pregnancy may show up as:

  • Birth defects in the newborn
  • Small head circumference
  • Low birthweight
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Problems with development and/or behavior
  • Premature birth

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Infant Withdrawal Symptoms 

There are multiple health concerns associated with substance use throughout pregnancy, one of them being neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Information from the source above states that NAS occurs when a pregnant mother uses drugs such as heroin, oxycodone, codeine, methadone, or buprenorphine, although other drugs may also contribute to NAS symptoms. One major characteristic of this condition is that it produces infant withdrawal symptoms. The severity of an infant’s withdrawal symptoms correlates with the type of drug used during pregnancy, the intensity and duration of use, how the mother’s body breaks down the drug, and when the baby is born (full-term or prematurely). Symptoms occur within 1-3 days following birth but can take up to a week to appear. Common symptoms may include: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Intense or abnormal crying
  • Excessive sucking
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling
  • Sleep issues
  • Slow weight gain
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Poor feeding
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Hyperactive reflexes

As many other conditions can produce similar symptoms of NAS, it is important that professional exams are conducted to make a proper diagnosis. Treatment of NAS is dependent on the drug used and the infant’s health scores. A newborn must be watched carefully in the hospital for up to a week if they have NAS and may need medicine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. 


Stillbirth is the loss of a baby before or during delivery. While miscarriage refers to the death of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy, stillbirth occurs at or after the 20th week. Tobacco, marijuana, stimulant, or prescription pain reliever use all double the risk of stillbirth as compared to non-drug users. 

Risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the condition of the sudden death of an infant younger than one-year-old. SIDS is the number one leading cause of death in infants in their first year of life. Although the complete set of risks continues to be unknown, research has linked substance use as one of the factors associated with the condition. Not smoking during pregnancy or allowing secondhand smoke near a pregnant mother or infant can reduce the risk of SIDS. Other ways to reduce risk pertain to how a mother cares for their infant after delivery. 

How Does Alcohol and Other Drugs Affect Pregnancy?

Although all substance usage during pregnancy shares similar risks, there are specific effects that are associated with each substance. Effects on a fetus, newborn, or child potentially include: 


  • Low birth weight
  • Intellectual disability or issues with cognitive development
  • Heart problems
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)


  • Seizures
  • Low birth weight
  • Issues with mental or physical development


  • Stroke
  • Deformed organs
  • SIDS


  • Long-term issues with memory
  • Issues with learning


  • Low birth weight
  • Issues with learning

Cannabis (Marijuana)

  • Tremors
  • Increased irritability
  • Issues with learning
  • Depression
  • Increased risks for certain types of cancer


  • Low birth weight
  • Issues with cardiovascular or respiratory functioning

Wine During Pregnancy

To be clear, there is no known safe amount of wine or other alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy or while an individual is trying to get pregnant. Many professionals advise against drinking alcohol as it increases the risks of many harmful effects on the developing fetus that continues into their infant years and beyond. To ensure healthy development for your baby, refrain from substance use of any kind. If you run into any issues with withdrawal yourself, contact your physician for recommendations for treatments or therapies that will lead to increased chances of a healthy pregnancy. 

Substance use remains a common topic of discussion, especially during pregnancy. While some research may claim that small amounts of alcohol or other drug use may have little to no effect on a fetus, it is best to refrain from substance use during pregnancy entirely. Using drugs and alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of many negative health conditions, such as neonatal abstinence syndrome, sudden infant death syndrome, or other conditions like stillbirth, low birth weight, or other developmental issues. While every substance may have different long and short-term effects on a fetus, there are many common symptoms of withdrawal that are experienced with any substance during pregnancy. West Coast Recovery Centers understands how difficult it can be to break an addiction, even when it comes to pregnancy. To ensure a safe and healthy development for your child, it is crucial to remain abstinent. For more information, call us today at (760) 492-6509.

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