Heroin During Pregnancy: How Bad Can It Be?

Addiction Resource > Addictive Substances: The Anatomy of Drug Addiction > Heroin Addiction, Abuse, and Treatment > Heroin During Pregnancy: How Bad Can It Be?

Pregnancy can both be inspiring and challenging. It involves nine long months of magical fetal development which can also bring out the biggest changes in a woman’s body.

Heroin Use and Pregnancy

It is amazing that everything the mother does affect the growth and maturity of the fetus—from the food she eats, the fluid she drinks, the sleep she gets, and even the sounds and music she listens to!

However, this particularly amazing fact also means that both the mother and baby can share just about anything that the mother takes in, whether it means good for the baby or not. The use of illicit drugs, such as heroine, is not exempted in this case.

Heroin and pregnancy are two things that do not go well together. Any drug addict can be rehabilitated and declared drug-free after a few months, but heroin addicted babies are another story. In fact, it has long been seen and proven among thousands of heroin users all over the world that the use of this opioid during and after pregnancy can bring adverse, even fatal, effects on the baby.

What are the consequences of using heroin during pregnancy?

The following are possible consequences of using heroin during pregnancy:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Impaired fetal development such as physical deformities or brain abnormalities
  • Fetal death/ Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (baby is born addicted to heroin)
  • Child may suffer from delayed cognitive development later in life
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Effects of Heroin Use During Pregnancy

Among the many effects of that heroin use during pregnancy are:

  1. Restricted oxygen supply that will result to low birth weight
  2. Preterm contractions and birth
  3. Fetal damage
  4. Abnormal fetal development
  5. Fetal death
  6. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or Heroin addicted babies

Without medical intervention, up to 80% of babies born out of mothers who use heroin suffer from mild to severe withdrawal conditions ranging from low birth weight, preterm birth, fetal damage, abnormal development of the fetus up to adolescence, and even stillbirth, early death, or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

If a mother uses heroin during pregnancy, will the baby be addicted to heroin?

If a mother uses heroin during pregnancy, it is possible the baby will be addicted to heroin upon birth, also known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. In addition, theories suggest addiction can be hereditary, so the baby may have an increased chance of developing an addiction to drugs later in life.

Sadly, more than 50 percent of women use some type of drug (prescription, non-prescription, or street drug) sometime during their pregnancy.  The trend is continuously rising, as more and more babies are being born addicted to heroin in the US alone. In March 2016, NBC News reported about the death of Morgan Axe and her unborn child due to the heroin overdose. In New Jersey, 1 out of 50 babies born is addicted to drugs that their mothers took during pregnancy (a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS).

Will my baby be okay if I quit heroin as soon I found out I was pregnant?

While quitting heroin increases chances that a baby will be born healthy, quitting as soon as you find out you are pregnant does not always mean the baby will be perfectly okay. Though the mother may be able to handle the symptoms of withdrawal, it is possible the withdrawals could create deadly conditions for the unborn baby.

Heartbreaking Stories of Heroin Babies

It can be heartbreaking enough to see mothers lose their unborn children due to a drug overdose. Nonetheless, it is good to know that there is treatment available for any woman suffering from heroin addiction, including those who are pregnant.

Quitting Cold Turkey Is Not the Best Option!

Some women quit cold turkey just when they find out about their pregnancy; however, suddenly quitting the drug may not only mean withdrawal symptoms for the mother—it can also cause severe conditions for the baby, and may even spell death despite the contrary being the primary goal. The mother’s body may be able to cope with withdrawal or relapse on their own, but unborn children are unable to adjust to the absence of the drug they are dependent on.

Congenital Physical and Mental Conditions

Medical professionals, volunteers, and families have witnessed babies being born preterm, with physical deformities, abnormal brain structures, heart failure, intestinal damage, hypoglycemia, blindness, difficulty in breathing, impaired immune systems, behavioral disorders, and more. Some, though not as obvious, suffer from mental development issues and delayed cognitive development that they carry out throughout their entire lives.1

In an article by Daily Mail UK, it was even said that “drug addiction may be hereditary”, such that certain brain features can be shared by addicted and non-addicted siblings. This may mean that once these heroin babies grow up and bear their own children, they may pass on certain genes that will make it more difficult for the latter to control themselves.

The most painful sights of children born with heroin dependency have been featured in the news all over the world. Their tiny bodies, often underweight, shake uncontrollably. Apart from convulsions, there is inconsolable crying, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, stiff joints, and the like. The only way to help these infants, in this case, is to give them heroin and wean them off slowly with the help of various medical treatments that do not cause the same high. None can be as distressing as seeing a newborn child having to go through such things due to a condition they could not have inherited in the first place, only if their mothers knew about their options.

Guilt is not enough.

Guilt is the first thing that most heroin-addicted mothers feel as soon as they see their newborn infants suffering from such conditions. However, despite this sad truth, most mothers who do not receive proper treatment are stuck with guilt and nothing more. Over their emotions, they are still addicts who need to get their quick fix. Many women stay dependent on heroin even after giving birth to their child, or their second and third child, and only realize the need to stop when they experience life-changing events such as death.

Getting Medical Help is The Best Way to Heal

Many women feel that there is no way they could forgive themselves after seeing how much their addiction has done wrong to their babies. In contrary, there is hope for all drug dependents, and same goes with heroin addicts who are yet to go through their pregnancies.

As soon as you find out you are pregnant and using heroin, get help immediately from medical practitioners or government-sponsored helplines. The sooner you get help, the fewer chances of your baby having to suffer. Most medical treatments make use of buprenorphine, a pregnancy-safe drug that helps quench cravings for heroin for both the mother and the baby. There are in-house rehabilitation centers that offer full rehab services for pregnant heroin addicts who need help in overcoming their addiction, provide full support from the start of the process and beyond the end of the treatment. There is hope, and there is no reason to be ashamed of wanting the best for your kids. It is never too late to save yourself and your baby.

Heroin During Pregnancy: How Bad Can It Be?

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