Article at a Glance:

  • Smoking crack during pregnancy creates serious dangers for the developing baby.
  • Crack use creates health risks for the pregnant mother and increases the risk that the baby will die before birth.
  • If a mother uses crack during pregnancy, their baby may be born addicted to crack.
  • Babies born to mothers who used crack while pregnant are at risk for long-term health problems.
  • The best thing a pregnant mother with a crack addiction can do for her unborn child is stop using crack as soon as possible.

Smoking Crack During Pregnancy

Crack cocaine is unsafe for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. If you smoke crack while pregnant, you are at greater risk of miscarriage. In addition, your baby will have a higher risk of developmental problems both before and after they are born.

Mothers who smoke crack while pregnant often give birth to babies who are addicted to crack. The effects of crack on a fetus include physical and mental problems that can have long-term consequences.

Effects of Crack Cocaine on the Mother

The effects of smoking crack while pregnant for the mother include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Respiratory failure
  • Strokes
  • Seizures

These effects are similar to the effects a non-pregnant person may experience. However, they are heightened in pregnant mothers due to the physical changes that occur during pregnancy.

Effects of Crack Cocaine on the Unborn Baby

Crack cocaine can affect the pregnancy and the developing baby in multiple ways. Potential effects include:

  • Low birth weight: A lower weight at birth creates an increased risk of health problems early in life.
  • Placental abruption: Placental abruption occurs when the placenta partially or fully detaches from the uterus, creating a very dangerous and potentially fatal effect for the baby.
  • Premature birth: If the baby is born prior to 37 weeks, it may have respiratory problems. A very premature baby may not survive due to its prematurity.
  • Miscarriage: Miscarriage occurs when the baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of gestation.

If you smoke crack while pregnant, your baby will have a greater risk of deficits in cognitive performance, information-processing and attention to tasks. While all of these factors are helpful for children while in school, they are also needed in many other major aspects of life.

Babies Born Addicted to Crack Cocaine

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is the medical term for a baby that is born addicted to crack or other drugs. Babies with NAS will spend the first few days of their life going through the discomforts of withdrawal. This can lead to complications that are detrimental to the baby’s health and very distressing for the baby.

Long-Term Implications for Crack Babies

Scientists are still studying cocaine’s long-term effects on babies born to mothers who used the drug during pregnancy. It is difficult to determine these effects because mothers who use cocaine while pregnant often engage in other risky behaviors that will also affect the baby’s long-term health. As a result, it is difficult to distinguish the effects of cocaine specifically.

Some research indicates that cocaine has long-term effects on the heart development of babies, potentially leading to lifelong cardiac problems. Studies also show that cocaine use may have long-term cognitive effects that impact memory, cognitive function, learning and language development. These effects are not likely to be severe enough to cause intellectual disability, but they can have a subtle impact that prevents a child from reaching their full potential.

Addiction Treatment for Pregnant Mothers

Women who are pregnant and use crack should stop using the drug as soon as possible. The longer that crack is used during pregnancy, the worse the potential risks for the developing baby will be.

Addiction treatment during pregnancy should be tailored to meet the needs of the pregnant mother. Going through crack withdrawal while pregnant will ultimately be better for the baby than continuing to use crack throughout the pregnancy. Professional addiction treatment offers mothers the best chance of stopping crack cocaine use and protecting the health of their unborn child.

If you or someone you love is struggling with crack addiction, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about individualized treatment programs that can work well for your needs.

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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 – 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

O’Malley, Gerald; O’Malley, Rika. “Cocaine.” Merck Manuals, May 2020. Accessed October 15, 2021.

March of Dimes. “Cocaine and Pregnancy.” September 2020. Accessed October 15, 2021.

Farkas, K.J., Parran Jr., T.V. “Treatment of cocaine addiction during pregnancy.” Clinics in Perinatology, March 1993. Accessed October 15, 2021.

Meyer, Kurt D.; Zhang, Lubo. “Short- and long-term adverse effects of cocaine abuse during pregnancy on the heart development.” Therapeutic Advances in
Cardiovascular Disease, February 2010. Accessed October 15, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the effects of maternal cocaine use?” May 2016. Accessed October 15, 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.