Memorial Regional Health: For pregnant women, alcohol and drugs are never OK | CraigDailyPress.com

Memorial Regional Health: For pregnant women, alcohol and drugs are never OK

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

No amount of drugs or alcohol, including legal drugs, such as prescription opioids or marijuana, is safe for pregnant women.

Despite evidence that alcohol or other drug use during pregnancy is dangerous to the baby's health, about 20 percent of pregnant women in the United States smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol each year.

Every year, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence kicks off Alcohol- and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week to remind women that alcohol and drug use during pregnancy is never OK.

Alcohol and drugs are passed to a fetus via the umbilical cord, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any amount of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy is considered unsafe.

Using alcohol or other drugs could result in miscarriage, low birth weight, premature labor, placental abruption, fetal death and maternal death, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Beyond these, alcohol or drug use during pregnancy carries a number of other ongoing risks to children as they develop, and some symptoms may persist well into adulthood.

Legal drugs still harmful

Since 2004, the number of babies born in drug withdrawal from prescription painkillers has increased fourfold, according to a study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine. The problem is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, occurring when pregnant women take opioid drugs. Babies born with this condition are stiffer and more irritable than normal babies, don't feed well and don't gain weight well, according to the study.

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"Because opioids are so addictive, many people become dependent on them. Pregnant women are no different — some are addicted before they become pregnant, others become addicted during pregnancy. In either case, the health of the baby is at stake," according to Harvard Medical School.

In Colorado, the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana has added to myths about the drug. One such myth is that, because cannabis is natural and used as medicine, it must be safe.

"Being legal does not make it safe. Not all natural substances or plants are safe. Tobacco and poisonous berries are great examples," according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "Marijuana contains THC, which may harm a baby."

Colorado law requires hospitals to notify child protective services if a baby tests positive for THC — the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana — at birth. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, some hospitals, but not all, test babies for drugs after birth.

Pregnant women drinking alcohol are essentially feeding alcohol to their unborn babies, too. Because nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, women should not drink alcohol if they are sexually active and do not use contraception, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marijuana's effects after birth

Marijuana that passes to babies during pregnancy could result in difficulties during development, such has problems paying attention and learning in school.

The dangers don't stop after a baby is born. Mothers who are breastfeeding also should refrain from using alcohol or drugs, because these substances can be passed to babies via breast milk.

Regardless of how marijuana and other drugs are consumed — eating, smoking or topical uses — the dangers remain.

"Some people think that using a vape pen or eating marijuana (like cookies or brownies) is safer than smoking marijuana. Even though these forms do

not have harmful smoke, they still contain THC," according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Marijuana crosses the placenta to reach an unborn baby. The American Pregnancy Association says mothers who use marijuana often also use tobacco and alcohol, so studies of its effects on unborn babies are inconclusive.

"Smoking marijuana increases the levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the blood, which reduces the oxygen supply to the baby," according to the American Pregnancy Association. "Smoking marijuana during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth weight, premature birth developmental delays, and behavioral and learning problems."

Dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy

Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities. For more information about these risks and other birth defects, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html.

Dangers of marijuana use during pregnancy

Smoking marijuana during pregnancy can increase the chance of the following.

  • Miscarriage
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature births
  • Developmental delays
  • Behavioral problems
  • Learning problems

*Source: American Pregnancy Association