Dangers of Cocaine in Pregnancy

pregnancy and cocaineUsing an illegal drug like cocaine can have numerous potential hazards and cause a host of negative side effects.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that decreases the urge to sleep and eat, and it acts on the pleasure centers in the brain. When taking cocaine, individuals may feel euphoric and energized. As it wears off, the associated “crash” may create opposing effects, leaving users feeling lethargic and depressed. Cocaine is considered to be highly addictive. Its abuse can lead to risk-taking behaviors and legal problems, and it increases the odds for contracting a sexually transmitted disease like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.

Use of cocaine carries risks for anyone, but the risks are amplified when it is abused by pregnant women.

Risks and Dangers

Pregnant women who abuse cocaine may be prone to skin infections, anemia, and malnutrition. After the baby is born, women who battle cocaine addiction may be more likely to suffer from more severe postpartum depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations, as these are possible side effects of cocaine withdrawal already. Incidents of violence, self-harm, and involvement in hazardous situations, resulting in infant danger or neglect, may result in the removal of the child from the home after birth. Legal troubles may occur for the mother when there is evidence of cocaine abuse or addiction.

Cocaine passes through the placenta to the fetus and can create numerous issues for the unborn baby. Using cocaine early in pregnancy may increase the risks for a miscarriage, while continued use can cause preterm labor, placental abruption, and low birth weight. Infants may be born small for their gestational age, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports.

Cocaine may decrease blood flow in the uterus, which can cause lower oxygen levels for the fetus and result in increased fetal heart rate and blood pressure, the Global Library of Women’s Medicine (GLOWM) publishes. The stress of birth may put more strain on the baby’s heart, which may be weakened by cocaine exposure, than it can handle. Unborn babies may be at risk for heart defects, cardiovascular issues, and disruption of their autonomic and central nervous systems, the journal Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease reports.

The long-term side effects of fetal exposure to cocaine on the heart and cardiovascular system are relatively unknown at this point. Defects to the genitals, brain, internal organs, and kidneys may also be side effects on the developing fetus due to cocaine use by a pregnant woman.

Other possible side effects of cocaine abuse on an unborn baby or newborn, as published by GLOWM, include:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): unexplained death of a newborn during sleep
  • Meconium staining: passage of meconium into the uterus, which can lead to the baby potentially swallowing it prior to birth, causing breathing problems
  • Microcephaly: small head size of the baby, possibly due to abnormal brain development in utero
  • Structural and/or congenital anomalies of renal or gastrointestinal system: stunted development of internal systems in utero, causing potential birth defects
  • Neurodevelopmental delays: hyperactivity, learning difficulties, behavioral problems, or other issues (These are not fully understood and require more research.)
  • Fetal death

Babies born to mothers who are dependent on cocaine may also be born dependent on the drug and suffer from withdrawal after birth. Cocaine withdrawal in a newborn may result in sleeplessness, difficulties feeding, irritability, tremors, muscle spasms, and uncontrollable crying.

Last Updated on June 4, 2019
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