How can illicit drugs harm my baby?

Pregnant women should remember that whatever they eat, smoke, or drink is passed on to their baby and can affect the baby’s development. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol and tobacco. In addition, they should take no drug or medicine without first consulting their doctors. Illicit drugs can be particularly harmful to a developing baby and may decrease its chance of survival.

Illicit drug use by pregnant women can cause serious health problems for the unborn baby. Here is a list of some illicit drugs and the effects they can have on a fetus:

  • Amphetamines: The use of these drugs has been linked to heart defects in babies born to women who used them. These drugs taken during pregnancy may increase the risk of placental problems as well as miscarriage and preterm birth. These babies may also be of low birth weight. Amphetamines are often sold as a street drug, but the main ingredient in amphetamines can be found in many over-the-counter diet pills.
  • Cocaine: Cocaine use can cause contractions of the uterus, which might lead to bleeding complications or premature labor. Cocaine can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, preterm birth, growth retardation, and birth defects in babies.
  • Marijuana: Women who smoke marijuana during their pregnancies might have babies with problems, including impaired fetal growth. Marijuana increases the risk of having a miscarriage, preterm birth, a baby with low birth weight, developmental delays, and even learning problems. These smaller babies are more likely to have health problems than are babies born to women who did not use marijuana.
  • Narcotics: Drugs such as heroin can cause growth problems, premature labor, and a fetal syndrome of narcotic withdrawal after birth. In addition, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is more likely among babies whose mothers used narcotics during pregnancy.
  • Tranquilizers: Tranquilizers including Valium have been associated with birth defects. Mothers who engage in heavy use during pregnancy can also have babies who undergo withdrawal symptoms after birth.
  • Glues and solvents: Women who sniff fumes during pregnancy may suffer a miscarriage or preterm labor and birth. They can have babies with birth defects including low weight, short height, joint and limb problems, heart defects, and abnormal facial features.
  • Ecstasy: Pregnant women who use this drug might have babies with long-term learning and memory problems.


If you use drugs, so does your baby. Drugs can affect a baby before and after birth. Before birth, drugs reach the fetus by crossing the placenta (the organ that connects the developing fetus to the mother’s uterus). After a baby is born, drugs can be passed from mother to baby through her breast milk.

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