How Heroin During Pregnancy Affects Both Mother and Baby

heroin during pregnancy

Heroin is an incredibly addictive illegal street drug. It is derived from morphine, which comes from the opium poppy plant. On the street, heroin is sold as either a brown or white powder or black tar heroin that users smoke, inject, or snort. It is incredibly addictive and harmful to the user’s health. Sadly, many women become pregnant while using heroin. While heroin is detrimental to the mother’s health, it is even worse for the developing fetus. Using heroin during pregnancy can indirectly harm the fetus by its negative impact on the mother’s health, or it can directly affect the fetus.

Effects on the Mother When Using Heroin During Pregnancy

Pregnant women using heroin are at greater-than-normal risk for lifestyle problems that can affect the growing baby, such as:

  • Malnutrition
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Infections, such as HIV or hepatitis
  • Depression
  • Domestic violence
  • Relationship problems
  • Self-harm
  • Criminal activity
  • Poor prenatal care

They carry a higher risk for pregnancy complications such as:

  • Bleeding during pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis
  • Respiratory failure
  • Preeclampsia

Effects on the Developing Fetus

Heroin passes through the placenta to the unborn child, increasing many health risks to the fetus and raising the possibility of heroin dependence in the fetus. Heroin use during pregnancy can cause:

  • Increased risk of miscarriage: loss of baby before 20 weeks in utero
  • Increased risk of stillbirth: loss of baby after 20 weeks in utero
  • Placental abruption: separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus. This condition can cause massive bleeding and can be fatal for the mother or child.
  • Pre-term birth: birth before 37 weeks in utero
  • Low birth weight: under 5.5 lbs.
  • Birth defects: a change in shape or function in one or more body parts
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): unexplained death of the baby before one year of age
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Infants who become dependent on heroin during pregnancy may experience Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) at birth. NAS is withdrawal for the baby, who no longer receives heroin via the placenta from the mother. The onset of NAS typically takes place in the first 1-3 days after birth but may take place up to one week after delivery. Symptoms include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Reduced ability to breastfeed
  • Blotchy, mottled skin
  • Seizures
  • Slow weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Death

Babies with NAS are hospitalized and treated with medication, usually morphine, to relieve symptoms. The babies are then weaned off of opioids until they are fully detoxified.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin During Pregnancy

Children exposed to heroin in the womb are more likely to have behavioral disorders, difficulties with concentration and attention, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and a lack of social inhibition.

Treatment When Using Heroin During Pregnancy

While it is critical for a pregnant woman to stop using heroin, it is actually dangerous, and potentially fatal, for her unborn child if she stops cold turkey. Doctors suspect that when the baby is cut off from heroin, it becomes hyperactive, then oxygen-deprived, and that may cause death. For this reason, pregnant mothers using heroin should seek medical help instead of trying to quit heroin on their own. A combination of medication-assisted treatment and counseling can help pregnant women quit heroin. While Methadone and buprenorphine treatments can be used during pregnancy, both carry high risks to the mother and child, and it is important to know these before using this method of therapy.

If you are pregnant and struggling with heroin addiction, or know someone who is, help is available. Call Choices Recovery to stop using heroin now.

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