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What happens if you take drugs during pregnancy?

Know the effects of taking drugs while pregnant


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Drug use in pregnancy can increase the chances of having problems during pregnancy or with the new born child. There can be some very real risks for people who use drugs during pregnancy in general, no matter what drug is used.

Alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy can have an impact too. Learn about alcohol and pregnancy here and smoking and pregnancy here.

Using drugs while you're pregnant

Different drugs can have different effects on a pregnancy, but all drugs can have a negative impact.

Opiates and pregnancy

  • The most common form of opiate is heroin.
  • People who are dependent on opiates are likely to experience complications during pregnancy.
  • The most common medical problems include: anaemia, cardiac disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and hepatitis.
  • They also have a high rate of miscarriage, breech delivery, caesarean section and premature birth.
  • Infants born to those who take/misuse heroin are smaller than average, and frequently show evidence of acute infection.
  • Most of these infants exhibit withdrawal symptoms, because they have become addicted to the drug while in the womb.
  • The mortality rate among these infants is higher than normal.

Cannabis and pregnancy

  • Some research studies suggest that the use of cannabis during pregnancy may result in premature babies and low birth weights.
  • Studies on men and women have also shown a temporary loss of fertility. These findings suggest that marijuana may be especially harmful during your teenage years, which is a period of rapid physical and sexual growth and development.

Sedatives and pregnancy

  • Sedatives are another term for sleeping pills.
  • Babies born to mothers who misuse sedatives during their pregnancy may be physically dependent on the drugs and show withdrawal symptoms shortly after they are born.
  • These symptoms may include: breathing problems, feeding difficulties, disturbed sleep, sweating, irritability and fever.

Hallucinogens and pregnancy

  • Hallucinogens include LSD and magic mushrooms.
  • LSD use by pregnant women appears to be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.
  • Research also suggests that it may be linked to a higher incidence of congenital abnormalities among their babies.

Caffeine and pregnancy

  • The HSE and Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommend that pregnant people consume no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. This is equivalent to:
    • two cups of tea;
    • two cups of instant coffee;
    • one cup of filter coffee;
    • 200g dark chocolate;
    • 400mg of milk chocolate;
    • Caffeine is also present in fizzy drinks.
  • Studies have shown that caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome and that it can decrease foetal growth.
  • Many high caffeine foods also contain substances called tannins, which interferes with iron absorption. Pregnant people often have problems absorbing iron during their pregnancy, so it is important that they limit anything that could interfere with absorbing nutrients.
  • Click here for more advice on caffeine and pregnancy.

Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks, up to and including possible death.

Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.

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Published February 25th, 2013
Last updated April 5th, 2018
Tags drugs sexual health pregnancy
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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