Pregnancy and Drugs

Drugs and Pregnancy

Consumption of any illegal drug, and many legal drugs, is not safe for you or your unborn baby. Studies have shown that taking drugs during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature labor, fetal death and even maternal death.

Pregnancy and Drugs

Drugs, Medicine and Pregnancy

The following has been adapted from the websites listed at the bottom of the page.

Drug use by a pregnant woman can result in harm to her and her child. Because some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also harm unborn children, it is recommended that if you are pregnant you talk with your health care provider before taking any medication or any natural herbs.

Illegal Drug Usage During Pregnancy

Marijuana use and pregnancy

Marijuana, like all other drugs and medications, crosses the placenta to your baby. Marijuana contains toxins and some studies suggest that regular use of marijuana during pregnancy (like smoking tobacco) can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature births, developmental delays, and behavioral and learning problems. 

Cocaine use during pregnancy

Cocaine crosses the placenta and enters your baby's blood system.  The elimination of cocaine is slower in a fetus than in your body and the use of cocaine during pregnancy can affect your baby in a variety of ways. During the first trimester it may increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, cocaine use may cause the placenta to pull away from the wall of the uterus.  It can trigger early labor or cause the baby to grow poorly. As a result, a baby whose mother has consumed cocaine is more likely than an unexposed baby to have birth defects, low birthweight, die in their first month of life,  and more likely to develop mental retardation, cerebral palsy and other lifelong disabilities.  Additionally, a baby who was exposed to cocaine before birth may have feeding difficulties and sleep disturbances, may be jittery and irritable, be difficult to comfort, and may be withdrawn or unresponsive.

Heroin use during pregnancy

Using heroin during pregnancy increases the chance of premature birth, low birth weight, breathing difficulties, low blood sugar, bleeding within the brain, birth defects and infant death. Because this drug is so addictive, both you and your unborn baby can become dependent on the drug and after birth the baby may have drug withdrawal problems including irritability, convulsions, diarrhea, fever, sleep abnormalities, and joint stiffness.

PCP, LSD, Amphetamines and Methamphetamine use during pregnancy

PCP and LSD are hallucinogens and can cause the birth mother to inadvertently hurt herself or her baby.  More directly, PCP use during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight, poor muscle control, brain damage, and withdrawal syndromes including lethargy alternating with tremors. LSD can lead to a variety of birth defects.

Taking amphetamine or methamphetamine (speed) during pregnancy can result in problems since these drugs, like cocaine and others, crosses the placenta and enters your baby's blood system. During the early months of pregnancy, it may increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, they can trigger early labor or cause the baby to grow poorly. The baby can have low birthweight, birth defects, mental retardation, other lifelong disabilities, and has an increased chance of dying of sudden infant death syndrome. Babies born addicted to methamphetamine suffer withdrawal symptoms that include tremors, sleeplessness, muscle spasms, and difficulties feeding.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medicines

Of the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in grocery and drug stores many are thought to be safe to take during pregnancy.  However, it is important to remember that there are no medicines that are proven to be absolutely safe when you are pregnant. Be extra careful and make sure to read the labels on, and literature provided with, any medicines you purchase and then make sure to check with your health care provider before taking the medicine.

Also, remember that certain foods, vitamins, caffeine and herbs and herbal teas can affect your growing baby.  For additional information please visit the links Medication and Pregnancy and Pregnancy Risks as well as the links Caffeine and Pregnancy and Pregnancy and Smoking and Dangerous Herbs and Vitamins During Pregnancy.

The following list of resources below can help you in regard to drugs and medications during pregnancy.

Additional Information

March of Dimes

American Pregnancy: Illegal drugs during pregnancy

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Medicines while pregnant

NIAH: Drugs, supplements and herbal information

National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities


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