This article is from the General Pregnancy FAQ, by swnymph@FensEnde.com (Sabrina Cuddy) with numerous contributions by others.
Substance abuse is never healthy for you, and when you're pregnant, it
can have devastating effects on your baby. During pregnancy, dangerous
drugs can include things that, while not exactly healthy, might be
considered acceptable in many circles: cigarettes, alcoholic beverages
or even illegal drugs. Most of these agents can be harmful to the
woman who uses them -- and they also readily cross the placenta and
reach the fetus, where they can cause serious problems. For example,
alcohol consumption while pregnant can produce fetal alcohol syndrome,
perhaps the most well-known syndrome of birth defects associated with
drug abuse (see The Dangers of Drinking below). In other cases, many
of these substances cause nutritional deficiencies and fetal growth
problems, rather than outright birth defects.
Here is a list of some of the more common illicit drugs -- and their
effects on an unborn baby:
o Marijuana has been linked to birth defects in studies on
animals. Many babies born to women who smoked marijuana
while they were pregnant exhibit problems such as impaired
o Narcotics like heroin can cause preterm labor, growth
problems and a fetal syndrome of narcotic withdrawal
following birth. The incidence of sudden infant syndrome
(SIDS) is ten times greater among infants whose mothers used
narcotics while they were pregnant.
o Cocaine use is associated with contractions of
the uterus, which may lead to preterm labor or bleeding
complications. The drug has been linked to birth defects
(with incidence rates as high as one in ten among babies
whose mothers used the drug), as well as miscarriage,
stillbirth and growth retardation.
o Amphetamines have been linked to heart defects
in babies born to women who used them. Not just a street
drug, amphetamines are the main ingredient in many
over-the-counter diet pills.
o Some tranquilizers, such as Valium, have been
associated with birth defects. Also, heavy use in pregnancy
has been linked to an infant withdrawal syndrome after
birth, which has symptoms including low muscle tone,
irritability and an impaired ability to regulate body