Home > Addiction Recovery Guide

What You Need To Know About Pregnancy & Addiction

Finding out that you're expecting can be exciting and joyous. Most moms-to-be grow immediately more conscious of their health because everything they do affects their growing child. Unfortunately, for a mom-to-be addicted to drugs or alcohol, pregnancy can trigger so many fears — adding stress to an already overwhelming situation.

As taboo as it is to openly recognize, substance abuse during pregnancy has steadily grown as a modern-day issue. Some estimates suggest that as many as 5% of expecting women use addictive substances during pregnancy. Approximately 80 newborns are delivered with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) every day in the United States — that's one baby every 19 minutes.

The Many Dangers of Addiction While Pregnant

Using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can pose risks for baby and mother. Numerous factors can affect the severity of the risks involved, such as what substance the mother is using, how often, and how long or when in the pregnancy she started using.

General risks to the unborn child when the mother is addicted can be everything from premature birth to developmental defects and stillbirth. Babies can be born with NAS (withdrawal symptoms after birth). They can also have substance-specific damages, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder that can cause lifelong cognitive and developmental challenges. Heart defects are prevalent among babies born to addictive mothers, as well. Many infants die before their first birthday when born with these defects.

Other risks for the baby can include:

  • Later-life behavior or learning deficits
  • Slower growth rates
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Placental abruption

Addicted mothers also face inherent risks during pregnancy. Women using drugs while pregnant are at a risk of delaying much-needed prenatal care. Some don't seek prenatal care for fear of repercussions or losing custody of their child.

The negative stigma toward using drugs or drinking alcohol while pregnant is real, albeit unfair. A woman who is addicted can't simply stop using when she learns she is expecting. In fact, the added stress of the situation can push her to use more or even be at a higher risk of taking an overdose if she tries abstinence without medical assistance.

How to Safely Detox During Pregnancy

The detox process can come along with dangers for everyone, but a pregnant woman's situation is significantly more complicated. Detox during pregnancy is never recommended without guidance from an overseeing obstetrician and a detox specialist. Many women need detox in an inpatient setting with around-the-clock medical monitoring for mother and baby.

Alcohol withdrawal can especially heighten the risk of miscarriage if detoxing while pregnant. However, those addicted to other substances such as opioids, stimulants or sedatives should also consider inpatient detox to be absolutely as safe as possible. The risks of miscarriage can be so high in some situations, replacement therapy with buprenorphine or methadone may be recommended. While both drugs can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome symptoms after birth, the outcome can be more controlled with careful maintenance monitoring for the mother during pregnancy.

We're Overcoming the Unfair Stigma: Help Is Available for Addicted Pregnant Mothers

Pregnant women who need help can be apprehensive about seeking it for fear of backlash or judgement from care providers. Thankfully, a growing number of practitioners are being educated about the importance of support for pregnant women with a substance abuse problem. Some obstetricians have taken a direct approach to making a difference by working hand in hand with addiction recovery professionals.

Recovery programs specifically geared toward mothers-to-be are also becoming increasingly available. Roughly one in four national rehab programs now have specific resources available for women who are pregnant. More thought is being put into creating comprehensive care plans to give moms and babies the greatest opportunities to get through a difficult situation. If you are pregnant and addicted — or have a loved one who is — help is available. A healthier pregnancy is possible, and professionals are here to help you recover and get the chance to be a healthy parent to your future child.

Author bio: Tammy Cate is the founder and CEO of Transformations By The Gulf, a leading drug rehab facility. Cate is passionate about helping others lead a sober and fulfilling life. She maintains a hands-on rapport with staff and residents to ensure everyone is able to receive an individualized experience.