Most of the time, when people talk about the harmful effects of addictive substances, they mention the same side effects.
It’s common knowledge that addictions are dangerous to your mental and physical health, as they frequently isolate you from loved ones and ultimately can lead to an early death. It’s rarer to discuss the ways that addictive substances can affect the reproductive health of women, but it’s something everyone should know about.
The sneaky part about substances and pregnancies is that you don’t have to get drugs illegally to hurt yourself or any future children. Commonly accessible substances such as prescription medication and alcohol can often do harm that’s just as bad as the harm that recreational drugs cause.
Easily accessed at gas stations and grocery stores, tobacco is an addictive substance used worldwide. Although cigarettes are legal, they’re loaded with highly addictive chemicals, and many women struggle to quit for a full nine months. Tobacco use causes women to be at an increased risk for miscarriages or to give birth prematurely. Tobacco comes in multiple forms, but none of those forms are safe for pregnant women.
It’s easy to assume that, because some medication is only available through a prescription, it’s safe to use. In reality, many prescription medications can harm pregnant women or their baby. This doesn’t mean pregnant women shouldn’t trust any medication prescribed by their doctor, but it’s something to be aware of.
Having access to a refillable prescription is one of the most common ways for women to abuse drugs while pregnant. In fact, each year, 176,200 babies are exposed to potential birth defects resulting from substance abuse and drug addiction that occurred during pregnancy. Not all of these women found their drugs illegally — they instead got them from the local pharmacy down the street.
Caffeine, Cocaine and Meth
Generally, the definition of stimulants isn’t well known because the products have such a wide range of use. Even if they seem simple, they’re all bad for developing babies. Stimulants increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which doesn’t provide a stable environment for a baby to grow in. They also cross the placenta to the baby, who hasn’t matured enough to have a metabolism that’s equipped to process things like caffeine.
Even though it’s been proven in animal studies that women are more sensitive to the harmful effects of stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, it’s still common for women to use these substances while pregnant. Stimulants can seriously hurt any user, but especially babies who cannot process the toxins stimulants provide.
Because there is no known “safe amount” of alcohol to drink while pregnant, it’s important to be cognizant of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Some side effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, the more direct way your baby could be affected by your excessive alcohol consumption are inhibited growth, poor motor skills and nervous system complications, among others. All of these are 100 percent preventable, as long as the mom-to-be cuts alcohol consumption as soon as she realizes she is pregnant, if not before.
Women who plan to become pregnant should be aware of the concerns of potential drugs that they may have access to while pregnant. If used, the women may not see immediate effects on their baby after birth, but the consequences can follow their child throughout life. From common substances to illegal ones, staying informed is the best way to keep your baby safe.