Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal narcotic drug. It can create such a euphoric feeling that people tend to seek out the drug so they can continue feeling the enjoyable high. Using the drug repeatedly can quickly cause dependence and addiction to develop.

When a woman is pregnant, she’s essentially sharing everything she puts in her body with her baby: the food she eats, the air she breathes and the medications she takes — prescribed or illicit. Like most illicit drugs, heroin and pregnancy are a bad combination. Heroin can cause harm to the pregnant woman and her unborn child.

Approximately 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Many women may not even know they’re pregnant and may continue using drugs, further increasing the chance of an unborn baby being affected by drugs.

Article at a Glance:

  • Almost half of pregnancies are unintended, so women regularly using heroin should be very cautious about the potential of becoming pregnant
  • Women who regularly use heroin are at a higher risk of forgetting or skipping doctor visits related to their pregnancy
  • Sudden infant death syndrome and neonatal abstinence syndrome are two dangers that pregnant mothers expose their babies to when they use heroin while pregnant
  • Babies can be born addicted to the drugs their mothers consumed while pregnant. These babies then experience withdrawal symptoms after birth.
  • Seeking help from a medical professional to find the most effective way to wean off heroin is the safest choice to avoid experiencing any setbacks

Effects of Using Heroin while Pregnant

For mothers who are expecting and struggle with heroin use, there can be many fears and worries due to their addiction to heroin. It is important to seek medical assistance as soon as possible to try and reduce the chance that the substance impacts your baby.

The mother is also at risk of many problems. First, using heroin in and of itself can lead you to become pregnant without meaning to, because being high clouds your decision-making skills. Being high may also lead you to participate in risky behaviors you wouldn’t have otherwise. In the pursuit of drugs, you might not focus on the health and well-being of yourself or your child.

Women who use heroin while pregnant are at higher risk of violence, sexually transmitted diseases, participating in criminal activity, going to jail and losing custody of their child. They also have low rates of going to prenatal doctor visits, which keep both them and their baby healthy.

Heroin can also have severe effects on an unborn child. Women may experience placental abruption, which is when the placenta separates from the uterine wall. This abruption cuts off the oxygen and food supply a baby receives and can cause heavy bleeding that can be deadly for both the mother and the baby. Babies exposed to heroin are also at risk of being stillborn, meaning that they die in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Heroin Withdrawal During Pregnancy

When you’re on heroin and pregnant and you try to stop using heroin cold-turkey, you can experience withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and include everything from nausea to anxiety and depression. This discomfort can lead women to resume heroin use to deter withdrawal symptoms.

It is crucial to seek medical help when trying to stop using heroin, especially if you are trying to quit while pregnant. Luckily, common medications to prevent withdrawal, such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be used during pregnancy to help you overcome heroin use.

Babies Born Addicted to Heroin

Every 15 minutes, a baby in the United States is born and suffers from opioid withdrawal.

When you use heroin when pregnant, it can pass to your baby and cause severe, even deadly, issues. Babies exposed to heroin in the womb are more likely to have sudden infant death syndrome, which is the unexplained death of a baby less than a year old. These babies are also more likely to have low birth weight and breathing complications.

When babies are born with heroin in their system, they can be diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is when an infant experiences withdrawal symptoms from the heroin their mother consumed during the pregnancy. Heroin exposed baby symptoms from NAS include:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Fussiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor feeding
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Crying in a high-pitched tone

The kinds of symptoms a baby has often depended on how serious their mother’s heroin addiction was. In some cases, a heroin exposed baby may need opioids to relieve their symptoms. The babies are then weaned off the medication after several days or weeks. The babies often need to be kept in the intensive care unit of the hospital during this time.

Heroin and Breastfeeding

If you are recovering from heroin and are stable on methadone or buprenorphine, it is usually fine for you to breastfeed. Very little of these drugs get to your baby through your breastmilk. Always consult with your doctor before beginning any new medication regimen, or altering an existing prescription.

However, there may be other health reasons your doctor has told you not to breastfeed, such as if you are actively using heroin or other opioids. The concern is that narcotics can go through your breastmilk and harm your baby. If you are on methadone and buprenorphine and resume heroin use, it is very important to not breastfeed until you talk to your doctor.


The Recovery Village has facilities around the country that can assist prospective mothers with working toward a heroin-free life before they begin a family. Contact a representative today to discuss any questions regarding addiction treatment and co-occurring mental health disorders. Treatment plans are built around each person’s specific situation and the severity of their addiction. The Recovery Village can help patients detox from heroin and manage their withdrawal symptoms. Afterward, patients can enter an individualized treatment program to discover ways to manage their addiction.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Unintended Pregnancy Prevention.” December 20, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2019.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Dramatic Increases in Maternal Opioid Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.” January 19, 2019. Accessed March 23, 2019.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Substance Use in Women.” August 2018. Accessed March 23, 2019.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Opioid Use and Opioid Use Disorder in Pregnancy.” August 2017. Accessed March 23, 2019. 

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.

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