Substance Use While Pregnant

Parenthood starts at conception, which is why it is important for a pregnant woman to know how to take care of herself and in turn take care of her baby. Good nutrition, exercise and reducing stress are all important to a mother’s wellbeing, and the wellbeing of her unborn baby.

Abstaining from alcohol and drug use (illegal and prescription), unless a Doctor has advised otherwise, is critical during pregnancy. Our Center strives to offer education and information on substance use during pregnancy, enabling Birth Mothers to make appropriate choices.

Our Center and staff are committed to providing a judgment free environment where substance use can be discussed in an honest and open way. We offer referrals to community resources for treatment and support. Our aim, healthy mothers and healthy babies.

Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome

Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome refers to symptoms and problems babies experience when they withdraw from drugs they were exposed to prior to birth. When a woman takes drugs during pregnancy those substances pass directly from the mother’s blood stream, to the baby, through the placenta. Just as a mother can become addicted to a drug, so can the unborn baby.

Any drug which is taken during pregnancy has an effect on the baby. When a baby is born addicted to substances the baby will begin to show symptoms of withdrawal sometime after birth. How soon the symptoms begin to show depends upon the substance, but usually symptoms will begin to show anything from a few hours after birth, or up to 10 days after birth.

The following list gives examples of some of the symptoms newborn babies may experience:

  • High-pitched crying
  • Seizures
  • Tremors (trembling)
  • Irritability (excessive crying)
  • Sleep problems
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea which can lead to Dehydration
  • Tight muscle Tone
  • Weak sucking and Poor feeding
  • Sweating, Fever, or Inability to Regulate their own Temperature
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Itching

It is important to understand, babies experiencing withdrawal symptoms may require specialized medical treatments to safely manage their withdrawal symptoms.

Why Should I Be Concerned About Drug Use During Pregnancy?

Mothers who use substances during pregnancy put themselves and their baby at risk. Studies suggest, women who use substances are less likely to seek prenatal care. They are at higher risk to contracting STDs, HIV and Hepatitis. The adverse effect on the baby can include poor growth, birth defects, premature birth, and seizures among others. Different substances can cause different problems for the baby:

Heroin and related Opiates including Methadone

  • Seizures, and severe withdrawal symptoms which can last as long a 6 months


  • Increased rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)


  • Has significant effects on the growing fetus, and baby. Babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have deformities which affect their facial features, head and heart. Their growth is impacted, and they also born with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) which impacts the rest of their lives. The withdrawal period for alcohol can be a long a 18 months.


  • Linked to premature births and babies with low birth weights. Babies can also experience bleeding in their brains.


  • Can cause baby to have low birth weight


  • Increased risk of premature births, still births, and low birth weight.

Neo Natal Abstinence Syndrome Treatments

Treatments for Neo Natal Abstinence usually entails the baby being given medications to control their often severe symptoms. Severe symptoms would include seizures. The type of medications used to treat symptoms will depend on the substance the baby was exposed to, and how well they respond to the treatment.  Methadone is used to treat Heroin and other Opiates; Morphine is used to treat Benzodiazepine withdrawal; and Benzodiazepines are used to treat Alcohol withdrawal. These are some serious medications to give a tiny baby, but necessary to manage their pain and symptoms. Many babies require months of treatment in the N.I.C.U., before they are well enough to go home.

Babies suffering, and it really is suffering, with withdrawal symptoms need specialized care. Usually, babies will begin to show symptoms in the hospital shortly after birth and before discharge. When symptoms are noticed by the medical staff they will begin treating the baby for the withdrawal symptoms. Other babies, may have already left the hospital before any symptoms begin to show. If this is the case, medical treatment should be sought as soon as the symptoms appear.

From Deny to Cry

If you have used substances during your pregnancy, it is important to be open and honest with your baby’s medical team. Denying substance use is fine when it’s your own health involved, after all we all have the right to self-determination, and the right to make our own decisions, good or bad. However, when your baby can’t speak for themselves it is time to stand up and do the right thing. Denying substance use is pointless when your baby is showing clear signs of withdrawal. Many women will deny their substance use until they see the distress their baby is in from the withdrawal. It is at this point reality hits and the regret sets in, but it is not too late to stand up and do the right thing by providing the medical team with the information they need to correctly treat the baby.

How Can Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome Be Prevented?

This is easy. In order to prevent Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome it is preferable for a mother to stop substance use prior to becoming pregnant. If this is not possible, or the pregnancy was not planned, a woman should stop using substances as soon as she realizes she is pregnant. Help is available, and we can help you find it.

Open Disclosure

We are committed to providing a judgment free environment where it is safe to be open about substance use. We will strive to provide the facts, and help to make good healthy choices for you and your baby. We will provide emotional support throughout the journey.

Information On Substance Use During Pregnancy & Resources

U.S. National Library of Medicine – Pregnancy and Substance Abuse

March of Dimes –Smoking Alcohol and Drugs

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