Image of newborn baby crying.Photo by © drinking alcohol or using drugs when pregnant is the most common cause of health problems in newborn babies.

When a woman is pregnant, a baby is growing inside her. If a woman uses drugs or alcohol* when she is pregnant, the drugs can pass to her baby.

Some drugs can cause the baby to go through withdrawal right after they are born. This means that the drug is in the baby's body, and can make the baby sick. It takes time for the drug to get out of the baby's body. This sickness is called "neonatal abstinence syndrome" or NAS. You might hear doctors use this term or see it in articles. Some of the drugs that can cause a baby to be born with NAS are:

  • alcohol
  • pain medicine (prescription opioids)
  • heroin (illegal opioids)
  • certain drugs for anxiety or sleep, like Xanax® or Valium®

Babies born to mothers who used drugs while pregnant also might:

  • be born small
  • have problems eating and sleeping
  • have problems seeing, hearing, and moving
  • be slow to develop

While growing up, the child might:

  • have memory problems
  • have trouble paying attention and learning in school
  • need special teachers and schools
  • have trouble getting along with others
  • use or misuse drugs or develop an addiction

Children whose mothers used drugs while they were pregnant sometimes need special medical care all their lives. Some might not be able to live on their own when they grow up.

Programs can help pregnant women stop using drugs. This can help the baby a lot. If a pregnant woman wants to stop using drugs, it is very important that she gets help from a doctor. If a pregnant woman tries to stop using drugs on her own, it could hurt the baby.

It can be hard for any person with a drug problem to quit. But women in particular might be afraid to get help during or after pregnancy.

They might be scared of:

  • getting in trouble
  • people taking away the baby or their other kids
  • people judging them
  • not having anyone to watch their other kids

There is good treatment available for moms and babies. Pregnant women receiving medical treatment should talk with their doctor about a treatment plan.

*When we say drugs, that includes drugs OR alcohol.

NEXT: Drug Use and Your Health