Q&A: What are the effects of heroin use during pregnancy?
I am a manager at a family center, and one of my clients is a pregnant heroin addict. I would like some help to find out as much as I can about the effects of heroin on an unborn child.
The problem with illicit drug use, like heroin, is that those who use these substances usually are taking in other harmful substances too, like alcohol and cigarettes. Heroin addiction is also associated with poor nutrition and highly stressed day-to-day life.
But as far as studies indicating specific harm during pregnancy, there’s little conclusive evidence about exactly what damage is done. The March of Dimes explains, “children exposed to heroin before birth are at increased risk of learning and behavioral problems.” But complications during pregnancy, as I said, are tied up in several other factors.
Heroin is not a teratogen—that is, it’s not a substance that causes deformities in the developing baby. But, the mother’s baby will have a heroin “need” when he or she is born if the mother has been using on regular basis. You should urge your heroin-addicted pregnant patient to seek out the care of a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist (perinatologist).
If the mother goes through withdrawal during pregnancy, so also might the baby, with some stillbirths noted from this complication. The long term effects of heroin addiction on children born to these women demonstrate an increased tendency to behavioral and other problems.