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Drug Use and Pregnancy

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If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant and want a healthy baby, then it's very important to avoid drug use during pregnancy. Illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine aren't the only drugs that are harmful to fetal development; Commonly used over-the-counter medicines, along with substances such as caffeine and alcohol, can have lasting effects on an unborn child.

Why are pregnant women warned not to use drugs?

It's possible that you may not have a serious or long-lasting problem after using drugs. But the same is not always true for a fetus. Drug-using mothers often give birth to "drug babies." These children have a host of developmental problems.

Studies show that using drugs -- legal or illegal -- during pregnancy has a direct impact on the fetus. If you smoke, drink alcohol, or ingest caffeine, so does the fetus. If you use marijuana or crystal meth, your fetus also feels the impact of these dangerous drugs. And if you are addicted to cocaine -- also called coke, snow, or blow -- you're not only putting your own life on the line, but you are risking the health of your unborn baby.. The consequences of using cocaine include heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, and seizures. And these life-threatening health problems can also be passed to an unborn baby.

Taking drugs during pregnancy also increases the chance of birth defects, premature babies, underweight babies, and stillborn births. Exposure to drugs such as marijuana -- also called weed, ganja, dope, or pot -- and alcohol before birth has been proven to cause behavior problems in early childhood. These drugs can also affect the child's memory and attentiveness. In addition, some findings show that babies born to women who use cocaine, alcohol, or tobacco when they are pregnant may have brain structure changes that persist into early adolescence.

While cocaine's effects are usually immediate, the effect it can have on a fetus may last a lifetime. Babies born to mothers who smoke crack cocaine during pregnancy -- so-called ''crack babies'' -- usually have their own set of physical and mental problems. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, exposure to cocaine in the womb can lead to subtle, yet significant, deficits later in children. These deficits usually show up in areas such as cognitive performance, information-processing, and attention to tasks. These are areas that are vital for success not just in school, but in life.

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