Drug Use and Pregnancy
Which drugs have the most serious consequences for the fetus?
Taking almost any drug during pregnancy can have serious consequences for the fetus. For instance, babies who are exposed to cocaine have a tendency to have smaller heads that indicate a lower IQ. Cocaine-exposed babies have a higher risk of birth defects that impact the urinary tract or heart. Cocaine may also cause a stroke in an unborn fetus, resulting in brain damage or even death.
Using cocaine or methamphetamine -- also called speed, Tina, crank, or ice -- increases the risk of miscarriage early in the pregnancy. Later in the pregnancy, these illicit drugs may cause pre-term labor and low birth weight, as well as babies who are irritable and have feeding difficulties.
Pregnant women who smoke marijuana face a higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Smoking pot may cause developmental delays in the child. And after delivery, babies who have been exposed to marijuana seem to undergo withdrawal symptoms with excessive crying and trembling.
What about cigarette smoking during pregnancy?
Cigarette smoking causes serious illness and premature death in the general population. But pregnant women who smoke pass the nicotine and other carcinogenic chemicals to the growing fetus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, mothers who smoke early in their pregnancy are more likely to deliver babies that have several different heart defects, including septal defects – essentially a hole in the wall between the heart’s left and right chambers. Sadly, most infants with congenital heart defects die in the first year of life. Those infants who survive often face lengthy hospital stays and numerous surgeries along with a lifetime of disabilities.
Women who smoke are also more likely to have placenta problems. This is a serious concern because the placenta provides nourishment to the baby in the womb. Smokers also have low-birth-weight babies, premature deliveries, and babies with cleft palate. In addition, smoking during pregnancy and after delivery is one of the causes associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Does drinking during pregnancy cause fetal alcohol syndrome?
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) refer to a range of disorders caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause abnormal facial features, growth deficiency, and problems with the central nervous system. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome may also have learning disabilities, attention span disorders, and other physical disabilities, including vision and hearing problems.
There is no "safe" limit of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Some studies have found that small amounts of alcohol consumption can have the same adverse effects on the fetus as binge drinking.
Why is caffeine considered a "drug" during pregnancy?
Caffeine is legal and prevalent in foods such as chocolate and drinks such as coffee and sodas. But experts claim it's still a drug and should be limited. Caffeine has been a controversial subject in FDA guidelines. In the early 1980's, the FDA released a study that stated caffeine use had toxic results in studies of rats. However, this warning has since been loosened a bit.
Pregnant women who need caffeine should regulate it. It can cause low birth weight and irritability if taken in large quantities.