Taking cocaine while pregnant could result in premature birth, birth defects and stillbirth. Pregnant mothers who use cocaine may also experience serious health problems.

Fearing having their child taken away, some women will hide their cocaine addiction and continue taking the drug. Taking cocaine while pregnant could result in premature birth, meaning the mother will not carry the baby for the full term. Premature birth due to cocaine use can affect how the baby’s brain develops.

Is It Okay To Take Cocaine While Pregnant?

Not only can taking cocaine while pregnant cause devastating health effects to the baby, but the mother’s health may also be at risk. Expectant mothers struggling with cocaine addiction while pregnant should seek medical help, as misuse of the drug can lead to many adverse health effects. The drug can cause the mother to experience serious psychiatric health problems, cardiac and respiratory problems. Other health risks from cocaine use while pregnant include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Spontaneous miscarriage
  • Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm)

Cocaine misuse during pregnancy is directly linked to difficulties with delivery. Mothers who regularly took cocaine during their pregnancy can experience placental abruption, which is the separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, premature rupture of membranes and stillbirth. Mothers who use cocaine during their pregnancy are two to three times more likely to experience a stillbirth than mothers who do not.

Is Cocaine Harmful to Your Baby? Common Side Effects

Most babies that are born from women suffering from cocaine addiction are premature, which causes them to have a smaller head circumference, shorter in length and are underweight. Babies are typically expected to remain in their mother’s womb until at least 38 weeks. If an infant is born before the 37-week mark, it’s considered premature birth. The World Health Organization states that preterm children have a much higher risk of developing visual and auditory complications and learning disabilities.

Cocaine is also capable of impacting the fetus directly. A study in 2006 also found children who were exposed to cocaine before they were born have a much higher risk of developing learning disabilities. The mother’s cocaine use can also cause an infant to be born with a cleft palate, a hole in the roof of the mouth. Cocaine use while pregnant may also cause defects in the development of the heart.

Babies Born Addicted to Cocaine

Research has not been able to confirm if babies exposed to cocaine during pregnancy become addicted to cocaine themselves, a disease called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in which the infant feels withdrawal from drugs after birth. It is currently unclear whether they are experiencing cocaine withdrawal symptoms or the actual effects of cocaine that is still in their system after delivery. However, the possibility of NAS cannot be ruled out.

However, the long-term, harmful side effects of neonatal cocaine exposure are still reasons to not use the drug during pregnancy, including low birth weight, a smaller head circumference, and a higher risk of stillbirth.

Getting Help for a Cocaine Addiction

Many women who suffer from cocaine addiction are too afraid to seek help because they do not want their child taken away. Although the fear of child loss is understandable, continuing cocaine use may result in several birth defects and premature or stillbirth. These defects can affect a child for the rest of their life.

At The Recovery Village, our staff will not judge any patient, regardless of their situation. If you or a loved one needs addiction treatment, you can find a location near you to receive comprehensive, compassionate care.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the effects of maternal cocaine use?” May 2016. Accessed August 20, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding.” April 2020. Accessed August 20, 2021.

Markov, D.; Jacquemyn, Y.; & Leroy, Y. “Bilateral cleft lip and palate associate[…]4 weeks of gestation.” Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2003. Accessed August 20, 2021.

Gouin, Katy; Murphy, Kellie; & Shah, Prakesh S. “Effects of cocaine use during pregnancy […]iew and metaanalyses.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, January 2011. Accessed August 20, 2021.

Morrow, Connie E.; Culbertson, Jan L.; Accornero, Veronica H.; Xue, Lihua; Anthony, James C.; and Bandstra, Emmalee S. “Learning Disabilities and Intellectual F[…]tal Cocaine Exposure.” Developmental Neuropsychology, 2006. Accessed August 20, 2021.

Meyer, Kurt D.; and Zhang, Lubo. “Short- and long-term adverse effects of […]e heart development.” Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, February 2009. Accessed August 20, 2021.

World Health Organization. “Preterm birth.” February 19, 2018. Accessed August 20, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.