Pregnancy Under The Influence Of Alcohol or Drugs

Nothing can put a smile on one’s face like a new bundle of joy. To most people, it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl, just as long as the baby is healthy or not. Come to think about it, that brings up an interesting question, what is “healthy”? On second thought, what are the characteristics of a healthy baby? The usual observation includes having all its fingers and toes, regular heartbeat and breathing, and not having any deformities that may be hindering it from functioning and living a normal life.

What if all the observations were normal at first glance and it was discovered the baby had a hearing loss or suffered blindness? I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a doctor nor do I have any specialized medical training, but I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that the medical professionals would be curious to know how something like this has happened. In other words, I’m sure they would want to know what’s causing it, is this permanent, or will it be temporary? To know that means they would have to do a little background research on the parents, mostly the mother of the newborn baby.

Whatever the mother consumes during her pregnancy, the baby in the womb will get it as well. Remember the old saying “eating for two”? Yeah, that’s because a pregnant woman is doing that during the time she is carrying. This includes any medications, food, and drinks she takes. To be honest, there is a good chance that if the woman drinks alcohol, the baby will be the one to suffer for it. Any pregnant woman who drinks alcohol is at risk of having a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Research shows a child is at high risk of getting FASD if the woman:

  • has substance abuse problems
  • suffers from mental health issues
  • already had given birth to a child with an FASD
  • used drugs while carrying
  • smokes during the pregnancy
  • has multiple sex partners
  • is a victim of physical abuse and violence

Alcohol can damage a developing fetus. It should go without saying that there is no “safe level” of alcohol use during a pregnancy. So ladies, if you are trying to become pregnant or already are pregnant, it is highly advised that you should not drink any alcohol from conception to birth. As any doctor can tell you, a woman can be pregnant and not know for several weeks or more. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

There are several different types of FASD, each one goes by a different name depending on the symptoms detected by medical doctors and specialist. The types are:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) – abnormal facial features, impaired growth, and cognitive and behavioral abnormalities.
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS) – FAS without growth deficiency, or FAS with most but not all of the typical facial features.
  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) – prenatal alcohol exposure and neurodevelopmental abnormalities, but no observable FAS facial features.
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder/Alcohol Exposed (ND/AE) – Prenatal alcohol exposure, moderate cognitive/behavioral impairment.
  • Static Encephalopathy/Alcohol-Exposed (SE/AE) – prenatal alcohol exposure and severe cognitive/behavioral impairment, but no observable FAS facial features.

None of these symptoms can be cured. With proper diagnosis and treatment, a person with FASD can learn coping skills and keep improving their quality of life with the right support from family and friends. However, there is no evidence that it is hereditary or genetic. Therefore, it doesn’t get passed down from generation to generation. The only way that FASD is 100 percent preventable is if the woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy. Ban alcohol as soon as she finds out or while trying to get pregnant.

Alcohol is not the only danger facing both the mother and unborn baby, drugs of abuse can have horrible effects on the developing fetus as well. Research has been done to study how nicotine affects the unborn child within the mother’s womb. Once it is absorbed into the placenta, concentrations of the drug can be as much as 15 percent higher in the blood of the fetus than in the mother. So far, the results have shown that nicotine will:

  • Lower the amount of oxygen available to the mother and her baby
  • Increase the baby’s heart rate
  • Increase the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Increase the risk of the baby being born prematurely and/or born with low birth weight
  • Increase the baby’s risk of developing respiratory (lung) problems
  • Increases risks of birth defects
  • Increases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The more cigarettes a pregnant woman smokes per day, the greater chance the baby has of developing these issues among other health problems. Just like alcohol, there’s no “safe level” of smoking during a pregnancy. Even secondhand smoke contains more harmful substances than the smoke being inhaled by the smoker. If you are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant, you will have an increased chance of all symptoms mentioned above.

For women who use Nicotine gum and patches after finding out they are pregnant to help quit smoking, there’s really not a difference between that and actually smoking. These alternatives still release nicotine into the bloodstream of the woman trying to quit smoking. Yes, those products are designed to reduce the withdrawal symptoms and cravings for smokers trying to give up the habit, but there’s not enough research to prove the effects on pregnant women or the child in the womb. In other words, there’s no guarantee that your unborn child will not be affected by using these during pregnancy.

After you quit smoking, your medical physician can determine if you and your baby’s heartbeat return to normal. As a doctor or someone who is monitoring the pregnancy, it may be a good idea to keep track of their smoking habits, more importantly, their ability to quit. As a suggestion, we offer a couple of nicotine testing kits such as the iScreen OFD Cotinine Test that can detect usage in saliva back up to 2 days prior to testing. We also have the NicQuick Nicotine Test that uses urine and can detect nicotine use after 5 minutes up to 4 days prior.

Now let’s not forget about illicit drug use while pregnant. If you understand what drugs can do to a grown human being, can you imagine what it could do to a little baby? For examples, Cocaine has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight while Heroin exposure causes dependency which in turn requires treatment for withdrawal symptoms with the newborn. Did you know that Marijuana use increases the risk of stillbirth by about 2.3 times greater? Consider that with all the other factors that may impact fetal development with drug abuse during pregnancy, such as:

  • poor nutrition
  • inadequate prenatal care
  • stress
  • psychiatric comorbidities

The type and severity of an infant’s withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug used, how much used, how her body broke the drug down, and whether the baby was born full-term or prematurely. It is heartbreaking to see a newborn child go through such difficulties because of drug abuse by the parents. Medical personnel can tell if the child is going through symptoms within the first few days after birth. Some of the signs they may notice in a baby going through withdrawals include:

  • Blotchy skin coloring (mottling)
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive crying or high-pitched crying
  • Excessive sucking
  • Fever
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Slow weight gain
  • Stuffy nose
  • Constant sneezing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling (tremors)
  • Vomiting

Doctors may perform some tests to diagnose withdrawals in a newborn such as a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Scoring System (points system based on each symptom and its severity to determine treatment), a toxicology screen of first bowel movements (meconium), and a urine test. Treatment depends on the drug of abuse, the overall health of the baby, and if the baby was born full-term or premature.

Statistics show there is an increase of baby’s being born that suffers from illicit drug withdrawals. Overall, it’s been on a steady rise over the last 15 years of research. To put it into perspective, the rate of babies born with NAS per 1,000 hospital births was 1.2 in 2000, 1.5 in 2003, 1.96 in 2006, 3.39 in 2009 and 5.8 in 2012. To break it down into details:

  • It costs an average of $1.5 billion a year in health care charges
  • On average one infant is born with the syndrome every 25 minutes in the U.S
  • the highest rates are born in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee
  • the lowest rates are born in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas

To be fair about this, pregnant women are commonly being prescribed opioid pain relievers which increase the chances that infants are born with NAS. Honestly, even with legitimate reasons to use that medication, it can increase the risk of NAS along with the possibility of addiction. Some medical experts would say that drug treatment for pregnant women is somewhat rare. Less than 2,000 of the 11,000 treatment facilities listed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) include services for pregnant women.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t exclude the mother’s milk. Substances like marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, and some certain medicines can be found in a mother’s breast milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, alcohol is concentrated in human milk. However, little research has been done to figure out the long-term effects on a child who is exposed to them through the milk. It would be a good idea for women who choose to breastfeed to talk with their medical physician about the potential of all drugs to affect a baby’s developing brain from their substance use.

The one thing I hope all pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant take from reading this article is a simple warning: using tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs (including prescription medications) could very well have severe health consequences for infants because the chemicals can pass easily through the placenta to eventually reach the baby inside the womb.

If you suspect a woman who is pregnant may be using alcohol or drugs, testing her would be highly recommended for the safety of the unborn child. We offer a saliva test that is for “Forensic Use Only” available to Drug Courts and Correctional Facilities / Prisons. It’s the Rapid Detect SDS 10 Panel that can detect up to 9 different drugs of abuse PLUS alcohol (0% – 0.30%). If it’s only drugs you are looking for, we can offer you the Oratect oral Drug Screen Test that is 510k Cleared! It will detect up to 6 drugs of abuse and only takes a few minutes for the results to show up.

If you are looking for an Alcohol test, we can suggest using an AlcoCheck 02 Breath Alcohol Test. It is easy to operate, just simply breathe and it can detect alcohol BAC levels as low as 0.02 percent! If the crystals change color, alcohol is present in the person’s system. We also carry the Alco-Screen Saliva Alcohol Test Strips that can detect alcohol in most fluids, like saliva to most soft drinks. So if a person tries to hide their alcohol in a soft drink, Alco-Screen test strips can be used to test the drink.

We can’t stress how important it is for women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant needs to avoid consuming anything drug or alcohol related. More than just the soon-to-be mothers’ life is at stake here. No matter if you want to check for alcohol, drugs of abuse, or both, Rapid Detect has a testing kit to fit your needs. Call to speak with one of our knowledgeable sales staff at (888) 404-0020 weekdays from 8 am to 4 pm or send an email to anytime.

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