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What Are The Effects of Using Crack or Cocaine During Pregnancy?

By Marta Manning
When you’re pregnant, using crack or cocaine can be dangerous. Learn about the effects of using cocaine or crack during pregnancy.

Using cocaine during pregnancy is risky for both you and your baby. Cocaine and its solid more dangerous form, crack, can cause side effects and pregnancy complications. When used during pregnancy, crack and cocaine can harm your developing baby and lead to lasting health issues for years down the line.

Side Effects of Crack or Cocaine Use During Pregnancy

Cocaine has powerful effects on various parts of your body, including your brain, heart, cardiovascular system and digestive system. During pregnancy, cocaine can interfere with circulation and the health of the placenta, leading to a shortage of food and oxygen for your baby, according to the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists.

According to the March of Dimes, using cocaine or crack while pregnant can cause the following complications:

  • Placental abruption, when the placenta separates from the uterus, potentially resulting in heavy bleeding or even death of the baby and the mother
  • Premature birth (earlier than 37 weeks)
  • Low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces)
  • Miscarriage, or loss of the baby before 20 weeks
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), when babies are born addicted to a drug and experience withdrawal after birth

Effects of cocaine on people exposed to these drugs in the womb can continue into adulthood. Ongoing research suggests that lasting brain changes can be brought about by cocaine use during pregnancy. A 2019 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found a greater risk of emotional problems in teenagers whose mothers used cocaine while pregnant.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that children, teenagers and adults with a history of cocaine exposure before birth can experience long-term difficulties in these areas related to brain function:

  • Behavior
  • Concentration
  • Understanding and remembering information
  • Language
  • Memory

If you are pregnant and struggling with cocaine or crack addiction, you can avoid these serious risks and side effects by seeking professional help. With the right team of healthcare professionals, you can get the help you need to create a successful plan for treatment.

“It’s best to plug into care early, including the referral to nutritionists, mental health providers, social workers, in addition to physicians and addiction specialists,” NYC Health OB/GYN and director of perinatal services, Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “There is no specific medication-assisted treatment. Cocaine treatment consists primarily of tapering off the dosage gradually. Frequent fetal monitoring is imperative, as fetal withdrawal can result in death.”

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