Cocaine and pregnancy

Cocaine (also called coke or blow) is a very addictive street (illegal) drug that is usually a fine, white powder. It can be snorted or it can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. When cocaine is made into small white rocks, called crack, it can be smoked.

Cocaine is a very dangerous and addictive drug. It can be deadly if you take too much or if you mix it with other drugs. If you use cocaine during pregnancy, it can cause serious harm to your baby.

Can using cocaine harm your health?

Yes. Cocaine affects your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) and may change your sense of sight, sound and touch. It can cause stomach pain, nausea, body shakes (tremors) and headaches. It can affect the way you think and can make you feel anxious, restless, scared or angry.

Using cocaine can also cause serious health problems, including:

  • Heart attack.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Stroke. This is when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel that brings blood to the brain, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts open.
  • Seizures.
  • Respiratory failure. This is when too little oxygen passes from your lungs into your blood or when your lungs can’t remove carbon dioxide from your blood.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Severe weight loss.
  • Loss of smell. This can happen when cocaine is snorted.
  • Infections like HIV or hepatitis. Infections can happen when cocaine is injected through a dirty or shared needle.

Can using cocaine cause problems in pregnancy?

Yes. Cocaine crosses through the placenta and into the baby. It also takes longer for a developing baby or newborn to get cocaine out of their system than it does an adult. Using cocaine during pregnancy may cause serious problems for your baby, before and after birth. These problems can include:

  • 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.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • 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. Symptoms usually begin shortly after birth and can last several weeks. Symptoms of NAS include tremors (shaking), increased irritability, trouble sleeping and excessive crying. 

Cocaine use can also cause long-term health problems for your baby, including:

  • Behavior problems
  • Learning difficulties
  • Problems paying attention 
  • Vision and hearing problems

How can you get help to quit using cocaine?

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

More information

Last reviewed September 2020