Heroin and pregnancy
Heroin (also called smack or junk) is a street drug made from poppy plant seeds. It can be a white or brown powder, or it can be a black, sticky goo. Heroin usually is injected with a needle, but it can be smoked or snorted.
Using heroin can be very harmful, even deadly. It also can cause serious harm to your baby during pregnancy.
Can using heroin harm your health?
Yes. Heroin affects your central nervous system and how your brain works. It can make you feel itchy, sleepy and sick to your stomach. Using heroin can cause serious health problems, including:
- Respiratory failure. This is when too little oxygen passes from your lungs into your blood or when your lungs can’t remove carbon dioxide (a gas) from your blood.
- Heart and lung infections
- Infections like HIV or hepatitis (when heroin is injected with a dirty or shared needle)
- Kidney and liver disease
Can heroin cause problems in pregnancy?
Yes. Using heroin during pregnancy can be dangerous, even deadly. It may cause serious problems, including:
- Birth defects. These are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
- Placental abruption. This is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth. The placenta supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placental abruption can cause very heavy bleeding and can be deadly for both mother and baby.
- Premature birth. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome (also called NAS). This is a group of conditions a newborn can have if his mother is addicted to drugs during pregnancy. NAS happens when a baby gets addicted to a drug before birth and then goes through drug withdrawal after birth.
- Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb before birth, but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (also SIDS). This is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old.
If you’re pregnant and using heroin, don’t stop taking it without getting treatment from your health care provider first. Quitting suddenly (sometimes called cold turkey) can cause severe problems for your baby, including death. Your health care provider or a drug-treatment center can treat you with drugs like methadone or buprenorphine. These drugs can help you gradually reduce your dependence on heroin in a way that’s safe for your baby.
How can you get help to quit using heroin?
Talk to your health care provider. She can help you get treatment to quit. Or contact:
For more information
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Last reviewed January 2015
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I keep taking all my prescriptions during pregnancy?
It depends on the drug. Tell your prenatal care provider about any prescription drugs you take. Some drugs may be harmful to a growing baby. You may need to stop taking a drug or switch to a drug that's safer for your baby. Don't take anyone else's prescription drugs. And don't take any prescription drug unless your prenatal care provider knows about it.
I drank before I knew I was pregnant. Is my baby hurt?
It's unlikely that an occasional drink before you realized you were pregnant will harm your baby. But the baby's brain and other organs begin developing around the third week of pregnancy, so they could be affected by alcohol in these early weeks. The patterns of drinking that place a baby at greatest risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are binge drinking and drinking seven or more drinks per week. However, FASDs can and do occur in babies of women who drink less. Because no amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, a woman should stop drinking immediately if she even suspects she could be pregnant. And she should not drink alcohol if she is trying to become pregnant.
Is it OK to drink wine in my third trimester?
No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. To ensure your baby's health and safety, don't drink alcohol while you're pregnant. Alcohol includes beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor. If you need help to stop drinking alcohol, tell your health care provider.