Effects of Heroin on Fetus | Heroin and Pregnancy
Heroin is a drug that can swiftly destroy the lives of users. It can also destroy their families and entire communities. It’s a big part of the current opioid epidemic in the U.S., as are prescription narcotic painkillers.
When someone takes heroin, it binds to the opioid receptors that are in their central nervous system, and this triggers a flood of dopamine into the brain as well as activating the brain’s reward pathways. What happens along with the euphoric high that’s so often described with the use of this drug is also the beginning of addiction. Someone’s brain when they use heroin, in many cases only once, believes that it wants to continue seeking out the stimulus that led to the flood of feel-good dopamine.
It’s incredibly easy to become addicted to heroin and also physically dependent, and once someone is addicted to this powerful, gripping drug, stopping it is extremely difficult.
So what about when women are addicted to heroin, and they become pregnant? What are the effects of heroin on a fetus? What should be known about heroin and pregnancy? It’s a difficult topic because so many women don’t want to harm their unborn child, but they also can’t stop using heroin.
The following provides an overview of heroin and pregnancy.
The placenta is an essential component of a healthy pregnancy because it’s responsible for delivering blood through the umbilical cord. When there’s a problem with the placenta, it can cause the fetus to be deprived of oxygen or nutrients. There’s also the potential of a severe condition to occur called placental abruption, which refers to a separation of the placenta from the uterus.
Preterm birth refers to babies who are born before the 37th week of pregnancy, and low birth weight is referred to giving birth to a child who’s less than 5.5 pounds. Low birth weights are associated with chronic disease and issues with cognitive development throughout a child’s life.
Using any drugs while pregnant can also increase the risk of stillbirth, which means the baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
Researchers are still looking at many of these long-term effects of drug use on a fetus, but so far studies have shown that toddlers exposed to drugs in the womb had problems with focus, behavior control, and motor control, as well as many other developmental delays.
The risks for children born to drug-addicted parents aren’t just related to their drug exposure in the womb, but also the environment that surrounds them once they’re born.
Researchers also feel that exposure to any drugs or alcohol while in the womb can increase the likelihood the child will experience their own addictive behaviors later in life.
With heroin and pregnancy, addicted mothers tend to have lower attendance rates at their prenatal visits, and this is particularly risky for this group of women because their drug use classifies them as having a high-risk pregnancy.
Some of the possible complications associated with heroin and pregnancy can include hemorrhaging, respiratory failure and preeclampsia. Drug use is also associated with malnutrition, poor hygiene, higher rates of infection, depression, and self-harm.
The severity of the withdrawal symptoms can depend on how much heroin was used while pregnant, how long the mother used heroin during pregnancy, and whether the baby was born premature or full-term.
Some of the many symptoms of NAS can include fever, excessive crying and irritability, slow weight gain, problems breastfeeding, vomiting, diarrhea and tremors. In severe cases, NAS can lead to seizures and death.
When babies are born with NAS, they are usually hospitalized and treated with medications like methadone or morphine to help with their symptoms, and then their doses are gradually tapered down.
Often if the hospital where the baby is born sees the symptoms of NAS, they may contact local officials, and the child may be taken from the mother.
For women who are pregnant or could become pregnant and are addicted to heroin, it’s important to seek help sooner rather than later, because many of the effects of heroin while pregnant are avoidable.
Have more questions about Heroin abuse?Read the most frequently asked questions
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