Drug Use During Pregnancy


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What you take into your body while pregnant can have far reaching consequences on both your health, and that of your child. This is because your blood supply is intimately share with your unborn baby’s through the placenta, allowing for a free exchange of nutrition needed for healthy growth and development. An unfortunate consequence of this however, is that any harmful substances you take into your body will also be passed on to your child, meaning that if you abuse drugs or any other such substance, your baby will suffer its effects.

The effects of common drugs on a pregnancy

In this context ‘drug’ refers to any artificial substance, whether prescription or otherwise, which is taken for non-medical purposes. It may surprise you to find out that in medical terms even abusing over the counter medications like cough medicine is considered drug abuse and can be extremely detrimental to your health and that of your child. In fact even commonly used painkillers can be unhealthy if taken too often during a pregnancy. For this reason any and all medication you take during your pregnancy must be under your doctor’s orders, and must strictly follow the doses recommended for pregnant women.

During your pregnancy you should try to avoid taking even over the counter medication more than you absolutely have to, and if possible you should double check with your antenatal team to make sure that the substance you are taking is safe. Generally speaking most anti-biotics, local anaesthetics, vaccinations, and paracetamol are safe to take.

The effects of illegal drugs on pregnancy

Illegal drugs are always dangerous to your health, and more of a hazard during a pregnancy when your body is more vulnerable to their effects, and when your unborn child will also be exposed to the drug.

Illegal substances like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin all pass through your system and make their way into your baby’s body. These drugs and many others affect how a foetus grows and develops, sometimes causing severe physical and/or mental retardation, or even an addiction to the substance they are exposed to, which will in turn results in unpleasant withdrawal and sickness after childbirth.

Some illegal drugs can cause a condition called placental abruption. The placenta is, as mentioned above, an important organ which allows for the exchange of maternal and foetal blood, and is the basis of how nutrition is provided to a foetus. When placental abruption occurs, the placenta actually breaks away from its normal position on the side of the uterus, resulting in severe bleeding and a serious risk to both mother and child.

What support is there if I want to quit drug use?

If you come clean about any drug habits you have to your antenatal team (your midwife or doctor) you can expect both discretion and support. Their primary concern will be getting you healthy and clean so you have the safest pregnancy possible, and to that end there are many support organisations in the NHS and wider community which are designed to help you go through the process of quitting.


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