Having a baby will change your life in more ways than you could ever have imagined. Every mother wants to be the best mom possible and do everything there is to make sure that her baby has the best start in life. If you take drugs or alcohol during your pregnancy, you have the potential for having a baby who begins his or her life going through detox. Detox has serious side effects, and you may be wondering if detox is safe for your baby or whether it is better to wait until after your baby is delivered to go through a detox program. Medical professionals offer new research that may hold the answers.
Addiction and Your Baby
The first thing that you need to understand is that everything you put into your body gets fed to your child when you are pregnant. If you would not consider giving your baby drugs or alcohol when he or she is born, you certainly wouldn’t want to give these things to your unborn child when you are pregnant. If you have an addiction, though, you know that this can sometimes override maternal instincts you may have about protecting your child.
Getting help is easier said than done. It can be scary for you, but if you are pregnant, the effects that addiction can have on your baby can be even more so. Having a support system in place is important. If you are not aware of how taking alcohol or other substances may be harming your baby, here are a few reasons to consider getting help.
Taking drugs or alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of problems that include:
- Low birth weight
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Preterm birth
Drinking heavily can also cause alcohol spectrum disorders, which can leave lasting effects such as cognitive and behavioral problems that can follow your child through the rest of his or her life.
Babies born to mothers with alcohol or substance use disorders are more likely to have a disability than those whose mothers receive help for their disorder while they are pregnant. Babies born to addicted mothers are more likely to be kept in the neonatal ICU for several weeks or even months after they are born. This is the best reason to consider getting help if you are taking drugs or alcohol while pregnant.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)
Babies born to mothers who use some drugs, including opioids, may come into the world with what is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. This is when the newborn exhibits withdrawal symptoms for the drugs that the mother used while the baby was in utero. Babies with NAS are more likely to have respiratory problems, feeding difficulties, low birth weight, and seizures. The important thing to remember is that if you are addicted to drugs while pregnant, so is your baby.
Detox from controlled substances is difficult for an adult body. Many times, babies are too fragile and unable to tolerate these same stresses. This makes it important to seek help as soon as possible so that you can receive specialized care for you and your baby. If you continue to use substances while you are pregnant, you increase the chances of having a baby with NAS. Nearly 75 to 90 percent of all babies exposed to controlled substances while in the womb are born with NAS. There are greater odds that your baby will be born with NAS than without if you continue to use drugs while you are pregnant.
You do not have to be taking hard street drugs in order to have a baby born with NAS. Even those addicted to prescription medications such as sleeping aids, painkillers, or other medications can have babies with NAS. The best person to ask if any drug is safe is your physician. There are many medications that are sold over the counter that may be safe if you are not pregnant but that may have serious detrimental effects if you use them while you are pregnant. If you are on any kind of medication, it is always best to ask rather than to assume that it is safe.
The possible consequences of NAS include having a child who has continual problems with behavioral disorganization, including control and attention, resulting in the development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. The child may also have long-term problems with motor and tone control, sensory integration issues, and problems with autonomic functioning. There are many more problems associated with NAS, and every child with the disorder is different. The most important point is that NAS is preventable, but once the damage has occurred, it is there for life. Prevention is the only cure for NAS.
Causes of NAS
Drugs like alcohol are not the only substances that are associated with NAS. Opioids such as the following can cause NAS in babies:
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Diazepam and Lorazepam
However, NAS has also been seen in mothers taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, for mental health conditions. Medications such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and citalopram have been associated with NAS even when taken as directed. SSRIs have been associated with symptoms in newborns like irritability, increased respiratory rate, diarrhea, and nasal congestion when the substances were taken during the third trimester of a pregnancy. You should never stop taking your medications before consulting your physician first. The potential side effects on your baby should be carefully weighed against other factors and your needs to find the best solution that will be right for both you and your baby.
Other substances that have been associated with NAS include marijuana, nicotine, and even caffeine. These substances should be limited or avoided altogether during your pregnancy just to be on the safe side. If you are taking any of these medications or using any of these substances, even if they are prescribed by your doctor, you need to discuss them with your physician if you are pregnant, or intend to become pregnant, so that alternatives can be arranged that are safe for you and your baby.
You may be aware that withdrawal from certain drugs such as benzodiazepines, or benzos, can have some side effects that are difficult to deal with in adults. The side effects can include:
- Muscle tension
- Panic attacks
- Short-term memory loss
- Disturbed sleep
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rate
In babies, these symptoms can manifest as:
- Rigid muscle tone
- Excessive, high-pitched crying
- Disturbed sleep
- An increased startle reflex
- Poor feeding
- Uncoordinated or inefficient sucking
- The need to suck excessively
These are general side effects that may affect any baby with NAS, but some substances are associated with specific symptoms. Amphetamines, or speed, can cause bleeding within the baby’s head. Exposure to marijuana can cause bleeding in the head, low blood sugar, low blood calcium levels, and a blood infection called sepsis.
The side effects of withdrawal often deter adults and pregnant women from getting treatment; they may have a greater fear of the side effects and withdrawal symptoms than from the addiction itself. However, when you are pregnant, you have to consider the welfare of your baby, too. Giving your child the best care possible starts before he or she is born.
Detox Safety and Pregnant Women
Drug withdrawal also has its own set of symptoms both in mothers and their babies. The severity of the symptoms depends on the length of exposure and frequency of the drug usage. However, that does not mean that if you are an occasional user your baby is safe. Your baby is small and growing rapidly. What may be a smaller dosage for you can be a lethal dose for your baby and cause dramatic changes in his or her development. There is no safe exposure limit for drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.
Some common detox symptoms include flu-like signs that may last 24 to 48 hours for heroin and prescription painkillers. Benzodiazepines can cause anxiety and potential seizures that can last weeks, and in some cases, months. Cocaine detox can cause depression and restlessness that last for seven to 10 days in most people (note, though, that these symptoms can also be complicated by the existence of an underlying depressive disorder). Alcohol detox can cause tremors and potential seizures that can last anywhere from three days to several weeks.
Continued use of alcohol and other substances causes a change in your body chemistry that results in cravings and dependence. It does the same thing in your developing baby. Because of the size and fragility of the baby when it is born, the symptoms can show to be much worse than in the mother. Withdrawal can start within hours after the baby is born and no longer has access to the substance through the mother’s system. In many cases, both mother and child will go through detox together. The baby will have a greater chance of requiring a stay in the NICU and need a prolonged stay in the hospital as a result.
You may be wondering if detox is safe for your developing baby or if you should wait until after your baby is born before beginning a detox program. New research shows that detox is safe for both you and your baby. The sooner you begin, the better your chances for having a healthy baby.
Things to Consider
The thought of detox and the potential effects of withdrawal can be worrisome. However, getting help early is the best way to assure that your baby has the healthiest start possible. There is no way to reverse the damage that has already been done, but getting into a safe detox program could help prevent any further damage from occurring. Regardless of what you choose, the road ahead will not be easy, and you need a support team, like the Haven Detox, that can help you along every step of the way.
Taking the best care of your baby means taking care of yourself, too. Getting the right help is the most responsible thing that you can do for you and your baby. This is the first step to surrounding yourself with a loving team that can help assure a safe detox and the best outcome for everyone. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call the Haven Detox. We’re available 24/7 to help.