What happens if you take drugs during pregnancy?

Know the effects of taking drugs while pregnant

Written by spunout


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 heroinPeople who are dependent on opiates are likely to experience complications during pregnancy. The most common medical problems for the pregnant person include: 

  • Anaemia
  • Cardiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pneumonia
  • Hepatitis

They also have a high rate of miscarriage, breech delivery, caesarean section and premature birth.

Infants born to those who take 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.

Sedatives and pregnancy

Sedatives are another term for sleeping pills. Babies born to someone who misuses 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
  • Fever

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.

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.

Supports and Services

  • Drugs.ie: Online information and support for drug and alcohol use. Includes a national directory of drug and alcohol services
  • HSE Drugs, Alcohol, HIV and Sexual Health Helpline: Freephone 1800 459 459.
  • The Club Drug Clinic offers advice, support and detoxification for GHB (Liquid Ecstasy, G) and other chemsex and club drugs is an integrated person centred specialist addiction service: Tel 016488600
  • Rialto Community Drug Team
  • Find a local service through the National Directory for Drug and Alcohol Services at Drugs.ie

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

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