Street drugs and pregnancy

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A street drug (also called illegal or illicit drug) is a drug that is against the law to have or use. Street drugs are bad for you, and they’re bad for your baby. About 1 in 20 women (5 percent) take street drugs during pregnancy. Street drugs include:

How can street drugs harm your pregnancy?

Using street drugs can cause problems for you before and during pregnancy, including:

  • Not being able to get pregnant. This is called infertility.
  • Problems with the placenta. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.
  • Preterm labor. This is labor that happens before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb before birth but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Babies born to moms who use street drugs during pregnancy can have these complications:

  • Preterm birth. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
  • Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Smaller-than-normal head size (called reduced head circumference)
  • Heart defects
  • 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.
  • Infections, including hepatitis C, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and Zika. These viruses often affect people who share needles when they use  street drugs. Moms can pass these infections to their baby during pregnancy or at birth. If you get infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy, it can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other brain problems.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (also called NAS). This is a group of health conditions that a baby can have if his mother uses addictive drugs during pregnancy. NAS can happen when a baby is exposed to a drug before birth and then goes through drug withdrawal after birth.

 Babies born to moms who use drugs often have problems later in life, including:

  • Learning and behavior problems 
  • Slower-than-normal growth
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). This is the unexplained death of a child while sleeping.

It’s hard to know exactly how each street drug harms your pregnancy. This is because women who use street drugs may use more than one drug and may have other unhealthy behaviors, too. For example, they may smoke or drink alcohol. They may not eat healthy meals. They may be more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease. All of these can cause problems during pregnancy.

How can you keep your baby safe from street drugs?

The best way to keep your baby safe from street drugs is to avoid them! Don’t use street drugs. Talk to your health care provider. He can help you get treatment to help you quit.

If you use heroin or the prescription drugs called opioids, don’t stop taking them without getting treatment from your health care provider first. Quitting suddenly (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 opioids and heroin in a way that’s safe for you and your baby.

How can you get help to quit using street drugs?

Talk to your health care provider about treatment to help you quit. Use the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call (800) 662-4357.

Last reviewed: November, 2016