A crying baby©istock.com/brebcaMothers drinking alcohol 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 the woman uses drugs while she is pregnant, the drugs can pass to the baby.

Mothers drinking alcohol when pregnant is the most common cause of birth defects that can be avoided.

The baby 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 trouble following directions and need to be told things many times
  • have trouble paying attention and learning in school
  • need special teachers and schools
  • have trouble getting along with others
  • act out and not understand the effects of doing bad things
  • have a drug problem of their own

Children whose mothers used alcohol and 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 safely stop drug use and can give care during pregnancy. Medicines can help treat pregnant women who are addicted to opioids like pain medicines and heroin, although some babies will still need treatment for withdrawal symptoms. But results are better for the baby if the mother takes treatment medicine during pregnancy than if she suddenly stops using opioids. If a pregnant woman tries to suddenly stop taking drugs and alcohol without medical help, she could harm 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 fear the law, social services, judgment from others, or lack of child care while in treatment. Pregnant women receiving medical treatment should talk with their doctor about their treatment plan.