The Impact of Babies Born to Heroin Addicted Mothers

Heroin is a very addictive and dangerous opioid drug. The drug rapidly enters the brain and targets the cells involved in feelings of pain, pleasure, heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. While these are the effects it has on the user, the impact of babies born to heroin-addicted mothers is alarming. 

When you consume heroin, you get a rush of euphoria; then, for several hours, you feel as if the world has slowed down. You think slowly and may saunter. Some users say you have an inclination that you’re in a fantasy.

It’s easy to get addicted to heroin. People often inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin and even after you use it just once or twice, it can be hard to stop yourself from using it again. Heroin and other opiates are the kinds of drugs that will create a physical dependence for your brain and body to rely on. When you stop using heroin it can be a dangerous and uncomfortable process because of withdrawal


Effects of Drugs on an Unborn Baby

Women face unique issues when it comes to substance use disorder. Study shows that women who use drugs can have problems related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. 

Research shows that using tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs or abusing prescription drugs by pregnant women can have severe health consequences for newborn babies. Many substances go effectively through the placenta, so substances that a pregnant woman takes also arrive at the fetus. Some substances can increase the risk of miscarriage and cause migraines, seizures, or high blood pressure in the mother, affecting her fetus. Some substances, such as marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, and certain medicines, can also be found in breast milk, which also affects newborns.

Regular use of certain drugs can cause Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), in which the baby goes through withdrawal upon birth. Data has shown that if you have been using any drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, your baby may experience withdrawal after the birth. 


Heroin Use in Pregnancy

Heroin addiction during pregnancy has been linked to some adverse health effects for both mothers and babies born to heroin-addicted mothers. For mothers, substance use disorder has been linked to maternal death; for babies born to women with substance use disorder, long-term addiction has been linked to poor fetal growth, preterm birth, stillbirth, congenital disabilities, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

man with hands on woman's pregnant belly

According to 2019 self-detailed information, about 7% of women in the United States reported using prescription opioid pain relievers during pregnancy. Of those, 1 out of 5 reported abuse (meaning getting them from a source other than a medical services supplier or using them for a reason other than to relieve pain).


Can Babies be born addicted to Heroin?

Just like adults, babies can be addicted to drugs. If a mother is using heroin while pregnant the substance will be introduced and shared with the unborn baby through the umbilical cord and create dependence. After the baby is born, that drug is no longer in the baby’s system, and the child may show signs of withdrawal. You will need to stay in the hospital for five to seven days after your baby is born so you can monitor your baby for NAS. 

The sort and seriousness of a newborn child’s withdrawal symptoms rely upon the drug(s) utilized, how long and how frequently the birth mother used, how her body breaks the drug down, and whether the newborn child was brought into the world full-term or through preterm labor. 


Withdrawal Symptoms of Babies Born to Heroin Addicted Mothers

Symptoms of drug withdrawal in a newborn can develop immediately or up to two weeks after birth and can include:

  1. Blotchy skin coloring
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Irritability/ excessive or high-pitched crying
  4. Abnormal sucking reflex
  5. Fever/ seizures
  6. Hyperactive reflexes
  7. Stuffy nose and sneezing
  8. Slow weight gain
  9. Sweating/ trembling
  10. Vomiting

Effects of using some drugs could be long-term and possibly fatal for the babies born to heroin-addicted mothers:

  • Birth defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Small head circumference
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

When you are pregnant, treatment programs, like methadone maintenance, and prenatal care aim to mitigate withdrawal symptoms since they can be harmful to your baby. Children born to mothers who consume heroin beyond the first trimester of pregnancy have a twelve times greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than those unexposed or only exposed in the first trimester of pregnancy. 

pills and glass sitting in front of a pregnant lady

If you are treated with methadone or buprenorphine during pregnancy, your baby may still experience withdrawal after birth. However, medication can treat infant withdrawal safely and effectively for the most part. You have to be extremely careful about your health and well-being during pregnancy, to protect not just your life but the other life breathing inside of you.


Getting Help

Opus Health has a program specifically designed for women with addiction. Evidence-based treatment plans are composed to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms from physically dependant drugs, like heroin, and medically assist you back to a healthy state. Call us to talk to a care coordinator and plan your future today. 


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