Miscarriage can result from many problems linked to cocaine use.

Cocaine is one of the most common illicit drugs used during pregnancy. Doctors think that up to 10% of pregnant women may use cocaine during their pregnancies. Unfortunately, cocaine can cause very serious health issues for both the mother and the unborn baby. In the worst cases, cocaine use during pregnancy can even cause miscarriage. Many pregnant women who use cocaine also use other drugs or alcohol, which increases risks to themselves and the baby.

Article at a Glance:

Important points to remember about cocaine and miscarriages include:

  • Cocaine is one of the most common illicit drugs in pregnancy
  • Cocaine can easily pass through the placenta and into the baby
  • Problems with the placenta can result from cocaine use, including detached placenta and reduced blood flow to the baby
  • The baby needs blood flow from the placenta in order to survive
  • Miscarriage can result from cocaine’s impact on the placenta and the baby

What Problems Can Cocaine Cause During Pregnancy?

Cocaine use in pregnancy has many of the same risks as cocaine use outside pregnancy, like the risk of overdose and death. However, pregnant women’s bodies are constantly changing during pregnancy, and using cocaine can interfere with this process. In turn, the health risks to the baby increase if the mother’s body is not adapting normally to pregnancy. In particular, pregnant women who use cocaine often have problems such as:

  • Low blood iron, which reduces oxygen for the mother and baby
  • Low folate level, which increases the risk for brain and spine problems in the baby
  • Abnormally low weight gain, which may limit nutrients for the baby

In addition, women who use cocaine in pregnancy may have other risk factors that put both themselves and their babies at risk. These risk factors include:

  • Using other illegal drugs
  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Not having a doctor
  • Being single mothers
  • Poverty

Cocaine use is dangerous for both the pregnant woman and her fetus. In an unborn baby, cocaine use can cause problems such as:

  • Stillbirth
  • Miscarriage
  • Detached placenta
  • Abnormal development
  • Slow growth

How Does Cocaine Cause Miscarriage?

When a pregnant woman uses cocaine, her unborn baby is exposed to up to 89% of the cocaine that she uses. Cocaine quickly crosses the placenta (the structure that supports the baby) and ends up in the baby’s bloodstream.

Cocaine increases levels of a chemical called norepinephrine (NE) that causes the fight-or-flight response. When a pregnant woman uses cocaine, she and the baby cannot get rid of NE as easily as they normally can. Therefore, both the woman and the baby end up locked in a long-lasting fight-or-flight response. A few things happen as a result of increased NE:

  • Blood pressure increases
  • The heart beats faster
  • Blood vessels become narrow
  • Blood flow to the placenta is decreased

In order for the baby to survive, it is critical for the placenta to get enough blood flow. The blood flow to the placenta is responsible for:

  • Getting oxygen to the baby
  • Giving nutrients to the baby
  • Getting rid of waste products

Studies have found that when a pregnant woman uses cocaine, she might feel contractions and notice the baby moving more than usual. In some cases, the woman’s placenta will sometimes detach immediately after cocaine use. Doctors think this happens because cocaine raises blood pressure and causes the blood vessels to narrow. A detached placenta is a medical emergency that can lead to death for both the mother and the baby.

Symptoms of a Miscarriage From Cocaine

If you have any symptoms of a miscarriage, it is important to seek emergency medical attention right away. A miscarriage can have different symptoms depending on when it occurs in the pregnancy. Cocaine may cause a miscarriage right after it is used, or it might occur a few days later. Some symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina
  • Cramping in the pelvis
  • Fluid coming through the vagina
  • Tissue passing through the vagina

If you or a loved one is pregnant or planning a pregnancy and struggle with cocaine use, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our compassionate experts can help guide you and your baby to a healthy life free from cocaine. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that can work well for your situation.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

Schenker, S., Yang, Y., Johnson, R.F., et al. “The Transfer of Cocaine and its Metaboli[…]Term Human Placenta.” Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, March 1993. Accessed June 16, 2019.

Sebastiani, G., Borrás-Novell, C., Casanova, M.A., et al. “The Effects of Alcohol and Drugs of Abuse on Maternal Nutritional Profile During Pregnancy.” Nutrients, August 2, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2019.

Chasnoff, I.J., Burns, W.J., Schnoll, S.H., Burns, K.A. “Cocaine Use in Pregnancy.” New England Journal of Medicine, September 12, 1985. Accessed June 16, 2019.

Greiss, F.C. “Uterine and Placental Blood Flow.” Global Library of Women’s Medicine, 2008. Accessed June 16, 2019.

Addis, A., Moretti, M.E., Ahmed, S.F., et al. “Fetal Effects of Cocaine: an Updated Meta-analysis.” Reproductive Toxicology, July-August 2001. Accessed June 16, 2019.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Miscarriage.” (n.d.). Accessed June 16, 2019.

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.