Babies whose mothers abused heroin may be more likely to suffer from several congenital birth defects involving the heart, spine, or eyes, and have feeding and sleeping difficulties as well as apnea. About 50 percent are born with lower-than-average birth weights, the Global Library of Women’s Medicine (GLOWM) reports. Heroin addiction in pregnant women may also lead to a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as indicated by a case reported by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Perhaps one of the most common side effects of heroin abuse during pregnancy is the onset of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs when a baby is born dependent on an opioid drug like heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that one baby who is suffering from opioid withdrawal is born every 25 minutes in the United States. In 2012, more than 20,000 infants were diagnosed with NAS.
Babies born with NAS have to stay in the hospital, on average, about two weeks longer than other newborns, NIDA reports. NAS generally develops within a few days of the baby being born, and it is characterized by the following symptoms:
These babies will usually need to be treated with medications, often morphine, in a dose that is slowly lowered over time to help wean them off the narcotic while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms they are experiencing.
Researchers are still unclear on what the long-term cognitive or other effects of heroin, or NAS, may be on the baby.
When used as a part of a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program, a replacement drug like buprenorphine can help to lower the adverse side effects of narcotic drugs to both the mother and baby by helping them to wean off drugs like heroin. This then lowers all the potential risks and hazards created by its ongoing abuse.