Cocaine Use During Pregnancy

Cocaine use during pregnancy is absolutely contraindicated. The use of all illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine is associated with severe risk to the baby and the expecting mother. The best thing to do if you are thinking to get pregnant, or are pregnant, is to quit them as soon as possible. It is very important to be extra careful at this time as many over the counter medicines and excessive use of alcohol and caffeine can also be harmful.

 Cocaine and pregnancy

How Can Cocaine Affect Pregnancy and Baby?

It is a proven fact that cocaine use during pregnancy leads to serious complications. Cocaine can cross the placenta and enters the baby’s body, where it stays for longer because the elimination system is not fully developed in baby. It leads to various complications and cocaine use in any form should be avoided throughout the pregnancy.

1. Increased Risk of Miscarriage and Premature Birth

The risk of having a miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy is twice for expecting mothers who take cocaine at this time as compared to those who do not. Latest research has confirmed that cocaine use can result in preterm labor and can cause severe brain damage to the baby.

2. Placental Abruption

Placenta is firmly attached to the uterine wall during pregnancy. Cocaine use can lead to separation of placenta from the uterine wall before delivery and this can result in excessive blood loss which can be life threatening for both the baby and the expecting mother. Women who smoke are also at a great risk of developing this potentially lethal complication. Since many cocaine users do smoke, their risk is increased many folds.

3. Low Birth Weights

Babies born to mothers who use cocaine during pregnancy are likely to be much smaller and have low birth weights. They also tend to have smaller heads because cocaine exposure halts the brain development and growth. The low birth weight is mainly due to the fact that these babies do not get proper supply of nutrients at crucial developmental stages and are often born prematurely. These babies are twenty times more likely to die within four weeks after birth, as compared to normal weight babies born at term. Those who survive are very likely to develop many disabilities like visual impairment, deafness, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

4. Increased Risk of Birth Defects

Cocaine use during pregnancy is associated with serious birth defects. Cocaine exposed babies are five times more likely to have a urinary tract malformation than those who are not exposed to it. They also have slow reflexes and score low on the tests which are performed at birth to evaluate the responsiveness and general physical condition. The cocaine exposed babies also have poor attention span and take longer to respond to human voice or faces.

5. Feeding Difficulties and Sleep Disturbances

The babies exposed to cocaine before birth generally have disturbed sleep patterns and are very likely to have feeding difficulties. Since they have residual cocaine in their system at birth, they tend to develop withdrawal symptoms like agitation and restlessness. They can be jittery and start crying very easily. It is very hard to console these babies and nothing seems to comfort them. However, some babies born to mothers using cocaine become unresponsive and tend to sleep most of the time.

6. Central Nervous Problems

While some brain damaging effects of cocaine are immediately recognizable at birth, there are many which do not present till a later age. These children are very likely to have learning difficulties and a very slow growth rate. There are strong chances of them having behavioral issues like being aggressive or having a short attention span. They are often slow learners and have poor language skills as compared to their peers and many of them need special education.

FAQs on Cocaine and Pregnancy

1. Are There Chances of the Baby Being Addicted to Cocaine If I Continue to Use Cocaine During Pregnancy?

The babies, born to mothers who continue to use cocaine during pregnancy, show withdrawal symptoms two to three days after birth. These symptoms include tremors, restlessness, irritability, muscle rigidity, sleep disturbance and feeding difficulties. The babies can be hyperactive or very sleepy. Other less common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting and sometimes seizures can also happen. If you have been taking cocaine during pregnancy, inform your obstetrician so they are prepared to deal with any complications.

2. Is It Possible to Detect the Damage Done by Cocaine to the Baby Before Birth?

It is possible to detect any structural abnormality or low birth weight with the help of ultrasound scans and you can discuss with your doctor about them. Unfortunately there are no tests available for detecting brain function and development. You need to tell the pediatrician about cocaine use during pregnancy, so they can be in a better position to look after the child.

3. Should I Stop Cocaine Use If I Am Breastfeeding?

It is strongly recommended to avoid using cocaine while breastfeeding as it is found in breast milk and there are cases where babies showed signs of cocaine toxicity when they were breastfed by mothers shortly after cocaine use. Do not apply it on your nipples if they are sore to ease off the pain, this is very dangerous for the infant. Discuss with your doctor regarding breastfeeding and other options available.

4. What Are the Risks Associated with the Baby's Father Taking Cocaine While I Get Pregnant?

Cocaine use leads to decrease sperm count in men using it and there is a higher number of abnormal sperms in the semen of those who use it. These factors decrease male fertility. Theoretically when a sperm contaminated with cocaine fertilizes an egg, there are chances of abnormal development, but this hypothesis is not proven yet. Any man wanting to father a child should discontinue cocaine use for at least three months to have healthy sperms and better chances of conception.