Effects of Maternal Drug and Alcohol use on Infants

The Future of Children drug-alcohol-infants , a Journal by Princeton University dedicated to improving the health and lives of children, details in great length both the negative effects of maternal drug abuse on their infants, as well as gives insights into how these effects may or may not present themselves as the child develops.

“Low birth weight, growth retardation in utero, and small-sized heads at birth are all potential consequences of cocaine use during pregnancy,” one article states. Unlike healthy babies, those who suffered through cocaine addiction and withdrawal (upon birth, the baby is cut off from the mother’s previous drug intake) will be less responsive to the world around them. A healthy baby will attempt to frequently touch faces and hungrily soak in information about the world around them. In juxtaposition, cocaine-affected babies will appear to be extremely irate and frustrated on birth, and will attempt to shut out outside stimulation as they develop. Sometimes, an exposed baby may be extremely restless, ignoring the typical cycles of sleep and activity, and instead seems to be stuck in a perpetual frustration, screaming and quickly becoming irritable at any provocation.

The good news, is that these effects may not always manifest in later years. It is still imperative to seek treatment immediately in you are pregnant or gave birth while on a substance. That said, only 40% of cocaine-effected children at a Princeton study seemed to be falling behind on systematic development.

Children exposed to heroin or other opiate addiction may have smaller head sizes, poor feeding, and many other long-lasting impediments.

That said, they continue to state that “most researchers agree that a poor environment will magnify any weaknesses caused by the opiate exposure.” This means that a big part of overcoming a child’s addiction is simply improving the child’s environment.

Quitting a substance after you’ve already had your child may still leave long-lasting impressions on them as well as tangible, physical health benefits. It is important to consult with your OBGYN, child therapist, or call a professional such as New Directions for Women to overcome a long-term substance addiction with your children’s needs in mind. We have a variety of care partners we work with to assist the entire family. Not only are these professionals equipped to make your transition into sobriety easier and more effective, but they can help prevent serious withdrawal symptoms for you and your baby. In infants addicted to opiates, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, these withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and it is absolutely vital to consult with an OBGYN or pediatrician, or a facility equipped to handle such cases, before beginning any kind of treatment process.

The effects of a mother’s addiction on their children are real, and unfortunately the shame and stigma that surrounds these mothers, too often, prevents them from getting help. Even though it can be uncomfortable to bring up, it’s so important to get the help these families need. Substance abuse can leave direct and lasting effects on a developing child. If you are addicted or dependent on a substance, whether it be prescription or street drugs, alcohol, or other chemicals, please see a professional immediately. We are an organization that specializes in helping women, whether they are pregnant, with dependent children, or by themselves transform themselves to overcome addiction in the long-term while building valuable life skills. If you are struggling with an addiction, please call immediately so we can help you.