The term “meth babies” has become one that we hear all-too-commonly, as more and more babies in the U.S. are born addicted to drugs. One of the reasons more babies are born addicted to drugs is because of the opioid epidemic the country is facing, but opioids aren’t the only culprit.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine in a 2015 report, the number of babies in America born addicted to drugs quadrupled since 2004. There are studies showing that many of these increases are surprisingly seen among people with higher incomes who are insured, and there’s also research showing it’s taking longer to wean newborns off the drugs they’re born addicted to.
According to the same report, every 25 minutes a newborn is born and going through extreme withdrawal symptoms. In 2013, 27 per every 1000 new babies were born addicted to narcotics.
An estimated 19,000 meth users are pregnant women, meaning this is a problem that will continue to plague families and society at large.
Meth has become one of the most common reasons pregnant women seek drug counseling, and this is a drug that is particularly risky to use in pregnancy.
Also, using meth can put women at a higher risk of becoming pregnant because it’s a drug that increases sex drive and reduces impulse control, so women who are addicted to this drug may engage in unsafe sexual habits that lead to pregnancy, along with a higher risk of a sexually transmitted disease.
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We will explore how meth affects babies, but first, we’ll look at the effects on moms.
Women who abuse meth tend to have dangerously low body mass index measurements in many cases, which can lead to a riskier pregnancy overall, more hospital stays and complications, and hospital stays that are longer.
When a woman uses meth during pregnancy it can also reduce blood flow to the placenta, and a woman on meth may not seek proper medical treatment out of fear or because she simply isn’t able to make the right choices because of judgment clouded by drug use.
When women use meth while pregnant, they’re at a higher risk of many dangerous or deadly complications. Some of these include:
- High blood pressure, which if it goes uncontrolled can lead to kidney damage, stroke and heart problems
- Eclampsia is a disease associated with maternal death, and if you’re pregnant and on meth, you’re at risk of eclampsia because of uncontrolled high blood pressure. This condition can lead to death, but also impact the liver, brain, and kidneys of the mother.
- Abrupted placenta happens in about 10 percent of pregnant women who use meth, and it can cause hemorrhaging that leads to death.
Women who are pregnant and on meth may also be at a higher risk of pre-term labor and delivery. In fact, a study from Cedars-Sinai showed that half of the women using meth during pregnancy delivered babies pre-term, and 29 percent of meth users in the same study delivered babies by C-section, which can lead to other complications.
Along with the damaging and all-too-often deadly effects of meth on pregnant women, this is a drug that also severely damages the health and well-being of the fetus as well.
Studies have shown that exposing a fetus to meth can cause DNA damage, and mental and physical abnormalities and heart defects. Half of the babies carried by women using meth are delivered prematurely which puts them at risk for underdeveloped systems including their brain, heart, and kidneys, and of course, mortality rates are higher as well. Unborn babies with mothers who use meth can die from miscarriage, premature birth, fetal stroke and more.
There is a specific name for what happens to meth babies called Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure.
In addition to the physical effects of being born a so-called meth baby, these children are also believed to often experience long-term problems in terms of mental, emotional and behavioral outcomes. For example, newborns born exposed to meth more often experience behavioral and sleep problems because of how the drug interacts with the brain’s neurotransmitters. Children exposed to meth may have reduced fine motor skills that may contribute to further coordination problems.
When meth babies become school-aged, they’re more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disabilities and have angry outbursts.
In an effort to curb the births of meth babies, some states have introduced programs that jail mothers, however, opponents say this is only adding to the stigma and further preventing them from seeking proper prenatal care.
Women who are on meth can seek treatment, even if they’re pregnant, and that’s the best thing to do. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly encourages pregnant women to go to a residential treatment center, or if that’s not possible to attend intensive outpatient treatment.
If you or a loved one live with methamphetamine addiction or are using methamphetamine recreationally and want to stop, it’s time to seek professional help. The Recovery Village® provides care to those struggling with methamphetamine. Reach out to one of our knowledgeable representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.
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.