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Pregnancy Complications Associated with Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Pregnancy and addiction

Pregnancy complications increase significantly when the mother has a drug or alcohol addiction. From fetal alcohol syndrome to developmental delays, the impact of addiction on pregnancy can be devastating. However, at Anabranch Recovery Center, we understand that addiction has a powerful hold, and that it takes a wealth of compassionate, nonjudgmental support to help a person overcome addiction–especially if their body is also trying to manage a pregnancy. 

Let’s review the ways substance use can affect pregnancy and how we can help you or a loved one who is pregnant and suffering from the disease of addiction. 

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

When a pregnant woman is addicted to substances, particularly opioids, the baby may be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition that triggers withdrawal symptoms in the newborn. This is because the drugs taken by the mother pass through the placenta to the fetus, leading to dependence. After birth, the baby’s sudden separation from the drug’s source causes a range of withdrawal symptoms, which can include tremors, irritability, sleep problems, high-pitched excessive crying, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty in feeding, and seizures. Withdrawal symptoms begin within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth. 

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Many possible permanent birth defects and developmental issues characterize fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Infants affected by FAS might display distinct facial anomalies, such as a thin upper lip and small eye openings. Besides physical traits, these children often struggle with cognitive difficulties and behavioral problems that last into adulthood. Central nervous system impairments can manifest as poor coordination, hyperactivity, and challenges in learning, necessitating lifelong support and specialized care.

Low Birth Weight

Engaging in drug or alcohol use during pregnancy significantly increases the chance of delivering a baby with low birth weight. Infants who weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at birth are at a heightened risk for infections, difficulty in maintaining body temperature, and feeding challenges in their initial days. Beyond immediate health issues, babies born with low birth weight may encounter developmental and growth delays as they age.

Preterm Birth

Substance abuse during pregnancy is a significant risk factor for preterm birth, which occurs when a baby is delivered before 37 weeks of gestation. These early births are associated with complications affecting the baby’s immediate health and developmental growth. Infants born prematurely often face respiratory distress syndrome, a condition where their lungs are not fully developed, making breathing outside the womb challenging. Premature birth is also linked to underdeveloped organs and cognitive impairments because key developmental milestones happen in the final weeks of pregnancy.

Placental Abruption

Placental abruption is a severe complication more common in pregnancies affected by substance addiction. Placental abruption involves the early detachment of the placenta from the uterus’s inner wall. This premature separation can lead to severe consequences, including fetal distress and a significant reduction in the supply of oxygen and nutrients critical for the baby’s development. It can lead to severe bleeding, premature birth, and even fetal death. It can also cause shock and blood clotting disorders in the mother.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Infants born to mothers struggling with addiction have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This condition, often referred to as “crib death,” remains the leading cause of death among babies aged 1 month to 1 year. Although the exact causes of SIDS are undetermined, recent studies show maternal substance use increases the risk of SIDS. Prenatal exposure to harmful substances is thought to contribute to abnormalities in the development of the brainstem, which plays a crucial role in controlling vital functions such as heart rate and breathing.

Congenital Disabilities

Substance use during pregnancy significantly elevates the risk of the unborn child developing congenital disabilities. Irreversible, these birth defects are varied and can include heart defects, limb malformations, malformed facial features, and neural tube defects such as spina bifida. 

Four Additional Pregnancy Complications Associated with Drug or Alcohol Addiction:

  1. Cognitive and developmental delays.
  2. Preeclampsia, which can lead to organ damage and premature birth. 
  3. Increased chance of miscarriage. 
  4. Increased chance of stillbirth.

Maternal addiction not only places the newborn at a disadvantage from the outset but also emphasizes the importance of comprehensive prenatal care and addiction treatment. The intricate connection between a mother’s substance use and the health of her baby illustrates the critical need for awareness and intervention.

Anabranch Recovery Center Can Help

If you are pregnant and struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, we are here to help. Located in Terre Haute, Indiana, Anabranch Recovery Center has a prenatal program designed to meet your and your baby’s needs. After a safe mother and baby detox, our professional, caring staff will provide the resources and tools you need to reclaim control of your life. Do not wait any longer. Contact us today.

About the author

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

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