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Drugs and pregnancy: The effects of the drug on the baby? what are the consequences?

Drug use during pregnancy poses risks to the pregnancy process and to the health of the baby. What are the effects of drugs on the baby? How...

Drug use during pregnancy poses risks to the pregnancy process and to the health of the baby. What are the effects of drugs on the baby? How do I stop?

Drugs and pregnancy: The effects of the drug on the baby

Consumption totally discouraged

Cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms...), solvents, amphetamines as well as methamphetamines and opiates (heroin, morphine, methadone, etc.) are among the most commonly used drugs. For certain drugs, the risks to the course of pregnancy and the development of the fetus are clearly identified. For others, we do not yet have all the information. This is why caution is called for: the use of any drug during pregnancy is therefore strongly discouraged.

What are the risks for the baby?

When you use cannabis or any other drug, your baby also uses it because these substances cross the placental barrier. Complications depend on the type and amount of drug used. Possible complications include :

  • a miscarriage,
  • premature delivery
  • growth retardation in the fetus
  • fetal distress
  • physical and neurological malformations in the fetus.

A deprivation (withdrawal) syndrome in the baby at birth can also be caused by certain drugs. It manifests itself by trembling, jerking, difficulty feeding, or constant crying. This syndrome is transient and is managed by medical teams. The drug can also lead to longer-term complications in children such as hyperactivity, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, etc.

Drug use is generally associated with poor living conditions (precariousness, isolation, etc.) and a lack or inadequacy of health care for the drug-addicted mother. It is especially these elements that are at the origin of complications during pregnancy and after delivery.

Every drug has its complications

However, not all drugs cause the same effects in the fetus.


For example, cannabis does not cause any birth defects in the baby, but it can cause premature delivery or endanger the life of the baby and the mother during pregnancy.


Cocaine, on the other hand, causes narrowing of the blood vessels and therefore, less proper functioning of the placenta: the exchange of oxygen and vital elements between the mother and the fetus is therefore disrupted, which can lead to fetal suffering, stunted growth, premature delivery or even miscarriage. It increases the risk of birth defects and may be responsible for permanent disabilities in the baby.


Heroin does not cause birth defects, but it does carry a risk of fetal suffering, death in utero and miscarriage. In addition, heroin frequently causes preterm birth, growth retardation, withdrawal syndrome and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. 

 What solutions?

Stopping the drug is not an easy process. Some drugs, such as heroin, require a gradual decrease in consumption, since stopping suddenly can be fatal for the mother or the baby. There are also substitution treatments for some drugs. These make it possible to avoid the withdrawal effects that are harmful during pregnancy and to stabilize the future mother's behavior. Substitution treatments also help to reduce premature birth, the risk of fetal mortality and stunted growth.

During breastfeeding, the use of drugs is also not recommended. If this is not possible for the mother, it is favorite to change the way you eat. 

Pr Philippe de Timary, psychiatrist at Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc.

Talk about it and get help

If you are pregnant and using drugs, it is important to talk about it with your gynecologist or the health care staff who are following you. There's no shame in saying it; on the contrary, it shows that you care about your baby's health and well-being.

Ending an addiction can be very difficult or even seem impossible for some moms. Get help! There are teams that specialize in helping pregnant women in difficulty with drugs.

Experienced people will be able to accompany you without judging you, help you during and after your pregnancy, whatever your situation: whether you stop taking drugs, reduce your consumption or continue. In any case, don't stay alone.

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