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Drug Use During Pregnancy

What We Know & Why It Matters

Before Birth: Growth & Development

Just like the food you eat or the beverages you drink, any drugs pass through the umbilical cord into your unborn baby’s body. They can cut off some or all of the food and oxygen your baby needs, which makes it more likely they will need to be cared for in the newborn intensive care unit.  There is a risk they may not survive the first year of life.

Drug use during pregnancy can cause problems with your blood pressure and heart rate and can lead to poor decision making about your health and your baby’s health, which can cause unintended and serious consequences.

Miscarriage & Premature Birth

Cocaine and methamphetamine cut off the blood supply to the baby’s brain and heart, which can cause the baby to have a stroke or heart attack in the womb. These drugs also can cause the mother to have a miscarriage or give birth early, before the baby is fully grown and able to thrive.


Heroin, methadone and other narcotics can cause a baby to go through withdrawal. Your baby may shake, tremor, cry hard, and have diarrhea and vomiting, just like an adult who has tried to quit “cold turkey.” Additionally, needle use puts both you and your baby at risk for hepatitis and AIDS.

Drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana also can cause the baby to be shaky, have a hard time responding to the mother or other caregivers, and can impact the child’s behaviors and learning capabilities for the long term. Caring for a baby experiencing withdrawal can be extremely difficult, taking a physical, mental, and emotional toll.

Growth & Development

Generally, babies whose mothers use any of these drugs can be born too small. Some of the drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine and narcotics, can even interfere with the growth of the brain before the baby is born.  This can lead to a low IQ.

Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can make it hard for blood to flow through the baby’s body while in the womb, which can cause the baby to be born missing parts of its arms, legs and internal organs.  These complications can greatly increase the level of care the babies need, which can mean a stay in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) and many trips to doctors over the years.

Breast Milk

Anything you choose to take into your body can be passed to your baby through your breast milk. Unfortunately, all drugs can enter the baby through the mother’s breast milk and may hurt the baby’s brain development.  Cocaine and methamphetamine in the breast milk can cause the baby to have a stroke or heart attack.

Secondhand Smoke

Even secondhand smoke – whether it’s from marijuana, crack, methamphetamine, or cigarettes – can harm your baby.  Smoke can cause your baby to cough, have trouble breathing and have nervous system problems, including seizures.  Secondhand smoke from tobacco use greatly increases the risk of crib death during the first few months after birth.

Secondhand Smoke

Did you know that the effects of drug use during pregnancy can affect children into adolescence and beyond?

Children, whose mothers used drugs during pregnancy, can struggle with learning and behavior problems when they get to school-age.  Your child may have trouble learning to talk, paying attention and regulating their moods.  In school, your child may experience aggressive behavior, frustrations when trying to think or solve problems, and struggles making and keeping friends.

It’s Never Too Late

If you’re using any kind of drugs, please talk to your healthcare provider right away.  There are resources and supports available to help you care for yourself and for your baby. It’s never too late to quit using!