Alcohol- and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects
May 13–19, 2018
There’s no denying that drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or using drugs while pregnant can be detrimental to a pregnant woman’s health, but just how severely does it affect her baby? Pregnancy and substance use disorders just don’t mix, and prenatal drug use can cause developmental defects for unborn children.
Each year in the United States, Mother’s Day marks the beginning of a week devoted to dispelling myths and increasing public knowledge about drug use during pregnancy. An effort of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the Alcohol- and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week seeks to educate everyone, especially expectant mothers, about the dangers of drinking alcohol or taking drugs during pregnancy. With the nation’s opioid crisis growing worse each year, this awareness week holds particular importance for every woman planning a pregnancy.
The week reminds the public of the scope of the prenatal drug use issue, highlighting statistics that are both timely and eye-opening. The figures paint a grim picture of how and why drug-related birth defects occur. In the United States of America:
- More than 380,000 unborn children were exposed to illicit drugs in 2012
- An estimated 5.9 percent of pregnant women used an illicit drug In 2012
- Nearly 1 million pregnant women smoke cigarettes
- Of pregnant women, 1 in 10 consumed alcohol while pregnant from 2013–2014
While these statistics may be deeply disturbing to learn, it’s these habits of drinking, smoking, and consuming drugs that can have harrowing consequences for children in utero. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 out of every 33 babies are born with birth defects, nationwide, each year. These babies may be born with neurological defects, body malformations and serious growth deficits — many of which are issues tied to prenatal drug or alcohol use. Newborn babies whose mothers used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy may be afflicted with:
- Brain damage
- Small heads
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Heart problems
- Kidney issues
- Seizures or convulsions
- Poor feeding ability
Common Alcohol- and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects
The consequences of prenatal drug use often go beyond birth defects. Drinking alcohol and using drugs during pregnancy can lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and a wide range of disorders that last into childhood. Two of the most detrimental, drug-related conditions newborn babies face are:
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
This condition causes a constellation of birth defects, including growth deficits, infant facial malformations and central nervous system dysfunctioning — all of which often persist throughout childhood. FAS can also lead to behavioral and intellectual disabilities such as hyperactivity, poor reasoning and a decreased ability to communicate in social situations.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)
Most often caused by the mother taking opioids during pregnancy, NAS causes babies to be born addicted to opioids (hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, etc.). After birth, babies who have NAS experience withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, fever and diarrhea, and more. If left untreated, these and other withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.
Treatment for Prenatal Substance Use Disorders
If you or a loved one face a drug or alcohol use disorder and are currently pregnant or considering pregnancy in the near future, healing is possible. Talk with your primary care doctor about ways to taper your drug or alcohol use if you may become pregnant, or ask your friends or family to help keep you accountable to sobriety if you are currently pregnant.
However, it’s important to remember that if you face a serious drug or alcohol addiction, your substance use disorder won’t go away on its own if you become pregnant. Drug or alcohol use disorders take more than willpower to overcome, and you may need to seek professional treatment to stop using dangerous substances during your pregnancy. Addiction treatment may seem like a daunting undertaking, especially during pregnancy, but don’t let your preconceived notions about rehab keep you from receiving the care you need.
At The Recovery Village, everyone is empowered to heal from drug and alcohol addiction, no matter their current circumstances. With nationwide treatment locations, you’re never too far from compassionate, effective treatment. The Recovery Village representatives will assist you in finding the center, and program, that best suits your needs and your pregnancy. The telephone call is toll-free, completely confidential, and you are not obligated to choose a program by talking with a representative. Take the first step toward a healthier future for you and your baby — call The Recovery Village at 352.771.2700 to get started.