Substance Use Disorders During Pregnancy

The abuse of substances is both harmful and dangerous to everybody, but there is extra hazard with pregnant women who take drugs. They run the risk of affecting their unborn child by inflicting birth defects, a prerequisite to grim consequences, such as sudden infant death syndrome.

When a pregnant woman smokes, drinks coffee and alcohol, or takes drugs, so does the baby in her womb.

How Do Drugs Get Into the Baby’s System?

As the placenta develops during pregnancy, the baby receives oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord, which is the baby’s connection to the uterus. A delicate layer of blood vessels containing some of the baby’s developing blood vessels extend from the placenta to the uterus and come into contact with the mother’s blood stream through a tiny membrane.

Any substances circulating in the mother’s bloodstream, such as nicotine, alcohol, prescription or other medications can easily cross the membrane and enter the baby organism. Substances affect the fetus in a few different ways. Read about them at

They could affect the fetus directly, causing birth defects or even death.

They could alter the placenta by constricting blood vessels and cutting off oxygen supply, leading to low birth weight and underdevelopment.

They might cause contractions to the uterus and induce preterm labour.

In cases where the mother takes a medicine to lower her blood pressure, this might in turn reduce blood and oxygen flow to the uterus.

How Do Substances Affect The Fetus?

All substances, irrespective of whether they were prescribed or obtained illegally, have the potential of causing harm to the developing organism. Research is still inconclusive, though, so it is difficult to link fetal damage to the action of one particular substance, a combination of substances, or a variety of factors, associated with the lifestyle that is coupled with drug abuse.

The effects of alcohol are probably best known. Its intake during pregnancy leads to the so-called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It is associated with lifelong disabilities, involving behaviour, development and cognition. It is generally accepted that the only safe amount during pregnancy is zero. Also, the first trimester is critical when it comes to alcohol intake during this period.

Drug Abuse During Pregnancy

Drug effects on the fetus are not as straightforward, and there has been a lot of speculation around them. It has been determined that marijuana’s main ingredient, for example, hinders brain development. Opiate dependence leads to NAS, which is short for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. What happens is, that the baby develops opioid dependence together with the mother. Symptoms could be grave – seizures, slow weight gain, vomiting, even death in severe cases.

This could be prevented of the mother enrolles in a pregnancy detox program, which can make sure that measures are taken to avoid NAS in the safest way possible for both mother and baby.

New mothers deal with enormous stress during pregnancy and childbirth. These changes are not only physical and related to the creation of new life and all the responsibilities that come from this fact. Social, economical, and family-related stressors and insecurities also pile up and the pregnant woman becomes really vulnerable.

That is why in the cases where substance abuse is present, it is extremely important to address the issue in the safest way possible for both mother and child, in order to prevent dire consequences in utero and postpartum.