When a woman is pregnant, she’s essentially sharing everything she puts in her body with her baby. This includes the food she eats, the air she breathes, and unfortunately the harmful substances as well.
It’s doubtful that too many women aim to use heroin when pregnant, but with addiction to this drug and other opioids on the rise, a woman may become pregnant and feel like she can’t stop. It’s difficult, and some states have created laws to punish women who use heroin when pregnant and other drugs, but that doesn’t mean it’s eradicated the problem. Far from it, in fact.
Heroin is a very powerful and very addictive drug that can cause immense harm to the person using it, and if she’s pregnant, also to her unborn child.
The use of heroin is prevalent, however. In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 329,000 people in the U.S. said they’d used heroin in the past month, and that included 79,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44.
Also relevant to the discussion of heroin when pregnant is the fact that more than half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, so at the same time heroin and opioid abuse are significant problems, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant, and they continue using drugs.
Only around 26 percent of women who use heroin also used birth control according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.
When you’re using heroin when pregnant, you may continue to put yourself in bad situations, and you might not focus on the health and well-being of yourself or your child, including nutrition and general wellness.
The other big problem, however, is that when you’re on heroin when pregnant, and you try to stop, you can go into withdrawal and symptoms can include everything from nausea to anxiety and depression. Withdrawal symptoms can lead women to relapse and use heroin again while pregnant.
Women who are on heroin when pregnant tend to have low rates of showing up to their prenatal doctor visits as well. Mothers who are on heroin when pregnant may harm themselves, experience relationship problems and domestic violence, and participate in criminal activity.
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First and foremost, heroin when pregnant can lead to congenital disabilities that can alter how a baby develops and their health for their entire lifetime. Premature birth is more likely as well as low birth weight.
Placental abruption happens when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before birth, and that can be deadly for a mother and the baby. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is something that happens when a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb and then is born going through withdrawal.
All of these are possibilities that are increased when you’re on heroin while pregnant.
Babies exposed to heroin in the women are also at a higher likelihood of dying in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and of experiencing sudden infant death syndrome, which is the unexplained death of a baby that’s less than a year old.
Women who are pregnant and addicted to heroin are advised to first and foremost talk to their health care provider because sometimes quitting cold turkey can lead to complications as well. There are options including buprenorphine which may be safe for pregnant women to combat an addiction to heroin but always speak with a medical professional if this is an issue you’re facing.
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