In Articles, Clearbrook Treatment Centers Pennsylvania

Drug Use | Clearbrook Treatment CentersMany of us like to think that the rate of babies born addicted to drugs has gone down in modern years but unfortunately, the opposite is true.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of babies being born to opioid-addicted mothers has actually tripled in the last 15 years.  Here in Pennsylvania, it’s happening at record levels.  Pennsylvania’s Health Care Cost Containment Council reported in March of this year that in Susquehanna and Wayne Counties almost 4 percent of infants are born addicted to heroin or prescription opioids, and in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties the rate is 2 percent. The CDC found that nationwide the rate of babies born addicted to opioids went from 1.5 per 1,000 hospital births in 1999 to 6 per 1,000 in 2013.  In order to better understand how drug use during pregnancy can affect your baby, we’ll take a look at what happens during each trimester and then how alcohol and drug use can interfere with development.

First Trimester (Week 1-week 12)

This is the most crucial time for fetal development and the one in which the most dramatic changes happen.  In the first month the digestive system, heart, circulatory system and neural tubes begin to form.  The neural tubes will eventually become the brain and spinal cord.  The heart starts to beat, and the arms and legs begin as tiny buds on the embryo.  By the end of the second month, the major body systems continue to grow and develop.  The heart beats regularly, the arms and legs grow longer and the baby fetus looks more like a human.  At 12 weeks the external sex organs show whether or not it’s a boy or girl, and the eyelids close to protect the developing eyes.

Second Trimester (Week 13-week 28)

During these weeks the muscle tissue and bones continue to develop and the skin begins to form.  The fetus can now make sucking motions with their mouth, and the fetus becomes more active and is able to kick and turn from side to side.  Eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair have formed along with both fingernails and toenails.  The fetus can hear and swallow, has taste buds, and responds to stimuli.  The lungs form and reflexes start to develop.  By the end of the second trimester, the baby is almost 12 inches long.

Third Trimester (Week 29-week 40)

At this stage, the fetus’ bones are fully formed but not completely hard yet, and the mother feels the kicks more intensely.  The eyelids open and close and the fetus can sense light and darkness.  The fetus grows larger and body fat increases.  The brain continues to develop and the fetus can hear.  By weeks 38-40 the lungs have completely matured and the fetus is ready for life on the outside of the womb.

All drug use can harm your unborn baby and result in various complications such as miscarriage, low birth weight, premature labor, placental abruption and even death.  There is no such thing as a safe drug or a safe amount.


Cocaine is a street drug that usually comes in the form of a white powder.  It can be snorted, mixed with water and injected, or if in the form of small white rocks (crack) it can be smoked.  Cocaine not only has harmful effects on the fetus like low birth weight and premature birth but on the mother as well.  It is known to cause maternal migraines, seizures, placental separation, and premature membrane rupture.  It can also cause high blood pressure, preterm birth, and placental abruption which can be deadly for both mother and child.   Babies born to mothers who regularly use cocaine are also at risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome and withdrawal symptoms.  The type and severity of the infant’s withdrawal depend on how long and how often the mother used.  Symptoms of infant withdrawal include diarrhea, excessive or high-pitched crying, seizures, slow weight gain, tremors, abnormal sucking reflex, rapid breathing, vomiting, and sweating.

Heroin & Prescription Opioids.

Heroin is an opioid that can come in the form of a brown powder, or as a dark tar-like substance.  It can be injected, snorted, or smoked.  Prescription pills used for pain management such as Oxycodone are synthetic opioids.  If used while pregnant opioids pass through the placenta to the fetus causing it to become opioid dependent. Babies that are born addicted to opioids suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome which can cause central nervous problems, tremors, seizures, and gastrointestinal dysfunction.  Babies born addicted also are more likely to grow up with lower IQ’s and have learning disabilities. Some infants need treatment with methadone or even morphine to help manage their withdrawal symptoms.  Using heroin while pregnant increases the chance for premature birth, low birth weight, difficulty breathing, hypoglycemia, and intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain), and infant death.  Withdrawal symptoms can include fever, convulsions, irritability, seizures, and gastrointestinal problems.


Drinking while pregnant can cause a number of birth defects and can result in Fetal Alcohol Spectral Disorders including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and alcohol-related birth defects including abnormal facial features and small head size.  It can also cause premature birth, brain damage, heart defects, or vision problems. The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy can still be seen after infancy as problems with motor skills, coordination, hyperactivity, learning disorders, poor memory, speech delays, and problems with social skills.

Not only can alcohol or drug use while pregnant have serious consequences for both mother and baby, but there can be legal consequences as well.  Prenatal drug use is considered child abuse in 23 states and can result in forced admission to a treatment program.  Certain states require by law for prenatal treatment providers to disclose suspected drug use to authorities.

Contact Clearbrook Today

If you or someone you love is using drugs or alcohol and is pregnant, please seek help before it’s too late.  Don’t wait for more harm to come to your baby or to yourself.

For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing quality treatment to those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction, while providing educational and supportive services to affected family members. We offer addiction treatment for expectant mothers specifically.

Please contact our Admissions Specialists today and see what recovery has to offer.

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