Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding

When a woman becomes pregnant, she begins sharing her body with her unborn child. Everything is supplied to the child from the mother through the placenta — oxygen, nutrients, and blood. Everything that the pregnant woman eats, drinks, smokes, or ingests will also be shared with the child. Similarly, when a woman is breastfeeding, what she ingests can pass to the baby through her milk. Keep reading to find out the facts and dangers regarding substance use while pregnant and breastfeeding.

Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding: Statistics to Know

  • Women are at the highest risk for developing a substance use disorder during their reproductive years (18–44), especially ages 18–29. This means that women who are pregnant or soon to become pregnant are at increased risk for substance abuse.
  • In the United States, 5.9% of pregnant women use illicit drugs, 8.5% drink alcohol, and 15.9% smoke cigarettes, resulting in over 380,000 offspring exposed to illicit substances, over 550,000 exposed to alcohol, and over one million exposed to tobacco in utero.
  • 14% of mothers who used illicit substances or were on opioid maintenance therapy breastfed vs. 50% in the general population.

Substance Use While Pregnant

When a woman becomes pregnant, she should stop using alcohol and substances as soon as she confirms her pregnancy. Otherwise, there could be serious, life-long risks for her child. These can include Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, birth defects, and a high risk of SIDS.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Regular use of some drugs can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is a condition in which the baby is born with withdrawal symptoms. Data has shown that the use of alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and caffeine during pregnancy may also cause the infant to show withdrawal symptoms at birth.

Symptoms of drug withdrawal in a newborn include:

  • blotchy skin coloring
  • diarrhea
  • excessive or high-pitched crying
  • abnormal sucking reflex
  • fever
  • hyperactive reflexes
  • increased muscle tone
  • irritability
  • poor feeding
  • rapid breathing
  • seizures
  • sleep problems
  • slow weight gain
  • stuffy nose and sneezing
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • vomiting

Birth Defects from Substance Use While Pregnant

Substance use while pregnant can cause long-term, and possibly fatal, birth defects for the baby. These include:

  • fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • low birth weight
  • premature birth
  • small head circumference
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
    • Children born to mothers who both drank and smoked beyond the first trimester of pregnancy have a twelvefold increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) compared to those unexposed or only exposed in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Substance Use While Breastfeeding

A controlled study that could potentially put a baby at risk for the sake of researching the harmful effects of substance use while breastfeeding is unethical. This means that research on the subject is sparse, however, there is some research from babies whose mothers were already taking drugs while breastfeeding.

As such, there is no “safe amount” of drugs or alcohol to use while breastfeeding. In addition, a mother who is impaired by drugs or alcohol can be putting their baby at risk with impaired judgment, becoming a fall risk, and having an inability to care for her infant.

About The Journey Home Women’s Recovery Center

If you or a loved one is pregnant or breastfeeding while using substances, it is important to get help right away before any lifelong or fatal damage happens to the baby. Addiction can make it difficult to stop using substances while pregnant or breastfeeding, and you will need a judgment-free space to get help with like-minded women.

We are a women’s only facility run and staffed by women. We treat substance use disorder differently, with an individualized treatment program focusing on trauma and co-occurring disorders. We also understand that you will be a big part of the discharge support planning and your involvement during treatment will be one of the building blocks to lasting recovery.

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