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Addicted at Birth: Newborns and Drug Dependency

Pregnant women who use illegal drugs or even legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol can affect their unborn babies. The use of these substances during pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of some complications, increased likelihood of preterm births, lower birth weights and other problems for infants. If you are pregnant, it is not too late to get treatment.

Can Babies Born Addicted to Drugs Be Normal?

Babies born to women who have used drugs are usually born with some of the substance in their systems. As they no longer receive this substance after birth, infants may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Red skin
  • Crying and restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing problems
  • Trouble feeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Slow development

In many cases, drug-addicted babies do go on to lead healthy lives. However, in some instances, their development may be affected for some time after birth. Babies born to mothers with alcohol addiction, for example, may have growth problems or intellectual problems for life.

What Drugs Can Babies Be Born Addicted To?

Abuse of numerous substances can result in babies born with an addiction. It’s best to seek treatment if you suffer from addiction to any of the following:

  • Alcohol: Fetal alcohol syndrome is the condition that occurs when babies are exposed to alcohol through the mother’s drinking. There is no safe amount of drinking during pregnancy, as any exposure to alcohol can lead to brain damage and developmental delays as well as growth problems in children. These effects can result in a lifetime of negative consequences.
  • Opioids: These painkillers are becoming an increasing problem in neonatal wards. According to the CDC, opioid use disorder for women giving birth more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.
  • Tobacco: Smoking and using tobacco products can lead to birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, as well as an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Tobacco use during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby’s developing lungs and brain.
  • Cocaine: Cocaine use during pregnancy can mean a child needs to go through withdrawal. Addiction can also affect the baby’s nutrient and oxygen intake and can lead to complications and defects.
  • Hallucinogens: LSD, MDMA, ecstasy and other hallucinogens can lead to withdrawal in infants, as well as preterm birth and miscarriage.

How Long Do Withdrawals Last in Newborns?

In many cases, these symptoms decrease in the first 10 days, and many infants born with harmful substances in their bodies go on to lead healthy lives. In some cases, however, the symptoms can be more severe, potentially lasting for up to six months. In the case of some severe addictions, a baby born addicted to drugs will face long term effects. For example, children who experience delayed development or who have been born prematurely or with low birth weights may suffer the consequences of those outcomes for years.

The symptoms of some drug-exposed toddlers can include delayed development and difficulty growing. Issues including intellectual problems and trouble at school may also occur later in life.

Addiction and Pregnancy

Newborns and addiction are a tragic mix. To avoid neonatal abstinence syndrome and addiction, get addiction treatment before attempting to get pregnant. If you are already pregnant, it is not too late to get help for you and your baby. Contact Gateway Foundation or call us at 877.381.6538 to learn about our life-saving treatments.

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