The life-threatening risks of abusing any type of drugs e.g. heroin, painkillers such as oxycodone, cocaine, methamphetamines (crystal meth, ecstasy) and marijuana are well documented. However, if you abuse these drugs while pregnant, you’re risking your baby’s health too.
In this article, we’ll discuss five commonly-used drugs that can cause irreparable damage to a baby in utero. Prenatal abuse of any of these substances increases the risk of your baby being born with birth defects; behavioural and developmental problems later in life; the baby could be born already addicted – or highly-dependent – on the substance.
Marijuana: Many expectant mothers don’t believe that marijuana has any effect on the unborn baby – it does! The reality is that any substance that the mother takes travels through their bloodstream and into the placenta. The active ingredient in marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), lessens the supply of oxygen to the baby, which can lead to a miscarriage, premature birth, behavioural and development problems.
Cocaine: Cocaine is an extremely strong stimulant and can restrict blood flow and oxygen to the baby, which can result in a plethora of prenatal risks such as stillbirth, intestinal complications and growth defects. After they’ve been born, the baby is prone to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), cocaine dependency, growth, brain and kidney problems.
Heroin: The risks of prenatal abuse of heroin are similar to cocaine; however, it is very common for the baby to be born already addicted to the drug and will experience devastating withdrawal symptoms such as convulsions, breathing difficulty and hyperactivity; symptoms can continue into early childhood and include stunted growth, impaired motor and organisational skills.
Alcohol and tobacco are the two most commonly-abused substances used during pregnancy.
Alcohol: Drinking during pregnancy can cause the baby to be born with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), causing irreversible symptoms such as brain damage, physical and cognitive disabilities, social behavioural issues, and general day-to-day functioning.
Tobacco: Cigarettes contain nicotine, carbon monoxide as well as many other poisons that when inhaled, flow through the mother’s blood stream going directly to the baby. Risks include lack of oxygen supply, elevated heart rate, birth defects, SIDS and lung problems.
How Marie Stopes South Africa can help you
At Marie Stopes, we offer a comprehensive pregnancy care service as well as counselling to help educate and discuss all of these issues; you can be assured of complete confidentiality. We also offer HIV/AIDS and other STI testing.
We have 17 centres conveniently located throughout the country. Please feel free to book an appointment with us to get more information on the dangers of abusing substances during pregnancy.
It’s absolutely essential for women to understand that abuse of any type of drug increases the health risks of your baby – as well as yourself. We urge all women in South Africa to contact us to learn more about the increased health risks.