The theory of Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) was first mentioned in the ’70s which is related to cocaine use by pregnant women at any particular stage of the pregnancy. Generally, mothers that use drugs while pregnant risk exposing their unborn child to the toxic chemical and the results are unpredictable and very harmful to the child. The teratogens contained in cocaine can easily be passed from mother to child during the prenatal period and can impart long-term effects on the baby.
Typically, most people make extra efforts to ensure that drugs are kept far from the reach of children, let alone babies. So, what happens if the female adult who is a crack addict happens to be pregnant and does not seek help for her addiction, rather, gives in to her addictions during pregnancy.
There is a high risk of a miscarriage if crack cocaine is used in the early months of pregnancy, if this does not occur; the baby may be faced with extensive health problems.
Modern science has reported the possibilities of a degenerative behavioral problem with children that were birthed while the mother was on illicit drugs. A later deficit in information processing, cognitive abilities, and poor attention to tasks are expected hindrances, that may stop the child from attaining their full potential.
The term “crack babies” has been used so many times in movies and documentaries; where does this term originate from?
Table of Contents
- What is a Crack baby?
- How Does Cocaine get to the child?
- Maternal Cocaine Use and effects
- Are Crack Babies Born Addicted to Drugs?
- How to know if your baby has NAS
- How many children are born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
- How can NAS be treated in infants?
- Can a pregnant opioid addict get treated before childbirth?
- How can one prevent Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
What is a Crack baby?
“Crack baby” is a term that refers to children whose mothers used crack cocaine while they were yet unborn. This means that the mothers used cocaine repeatedly, exposing the fetus to the toxic chemicals before the kids were born. Early studies on the case of cocaine use while pregnant reported that the child may grow to become physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled. In recent times, these reports were found to be flawed as there was no concrete evidence to substantiate these claims. However, there are other complications that can arise as a result of using crack while pregnant.
How Does Cocaine get to the child?
When a pregnant woman uses crack while pregnant, cocaine can easily cross the membrane of the placenta in to the bloodstream of the child. The drug may store up in high concentration inside the amniotic fluid rather than the mother’s own bloodstream.
Typically, the fetus absorbs nutrients from the amniotic fluid, at least till the fetus is 24 weeks old. The toxic content of the drugs also stores up in the mammary glands and is passed to the infant through breast milk. How can one predict the severity of the drug on the infant? This can be determined by the history, frequency, and amount-per-use of indulgence.
Maternal Cocaine Use and effects
Drug use is often a problem for many pregnant women. It is estimated that at least 5% of pregnant women use various addictive substances. This results in at least 750,000 pregnancies exposed to cocaine. Women are a bit more reluctant to seek help for drug abuse, especially when pregnant, this is because to the social stigma and fear of losing child custody due to their condition.
The use of cocaine during pregnancy can lead to health issues such as preterm labor, seizures, high blood pressure, miscarriages, migraines, premature rupturing of the membrane as well as the separation of placenta lining from the uterus before delivery.
Often times, it is difficult to comprehensively evaluate the full repercussion of maternal cocaine use in order to determine its health dangers to the fetus. The reason is that most women that use cocaine while pregnant, also include the abuse of other components such as alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and others. There are other social determinants such as poverty, malnutrition, exposure to infections, domestic violence, parental lifestyle, which largely contributes to the general health condition of the fetus.
In some cases, cocaine pregnancy can cause premature delivery. Some of the physical effects on the baby include low birth weight, shorter body length, smaller head circumference, and others.
Are Crack Babies Born Addicted to Drugs?
A simple answer to this question would be no. Crack babies are not born with an addiction to drugs. However, they are born with a significant amount of secondary metabolites of these drugs in their system; these toxins can cause a lot of discomforts and painful withdrawal symptoms to the child as well as other complex health issues.
The medical term for the withdrawal effect of cocaine in newborns is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This condition is largely caused by the exposure of the fetus to various drug types such as pain relievers, opioids, heroin, and other drugs.
How to know if your baby has NAS
In some cases babies could present with symptoms that are completely outside the cocaine pregnancy range. This depends on the lifestyle of the mother before childbirth. However, there are symptoms that are discovered to be recurrent for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, some of these symptoms include: difficulty in breathing, tremors, irritability, inability to feed, diarrhea, fever, seizures, and others. These conditions may become critical and life-threatening if not properly managed. It is required for the infant to stay for an extended period of time in the hospital for proper monitoring and management.
How many children are born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
Due to the upsurge in the misuse of opioids in the United States and other regions, the prevalence of babies born with NAS has continued to rise. The period from 1999 to 2013 witnessed a triple increase in the occurrence of NAS with a record of 6 cases of every recorded 1000 childbirth. The numbers are estimated to increase with the growing opioid addiction problem.
How can NAS be treated in infants?
Firstly, it is pertinent to state that babies are no addicted to drugs. The symptoms of addiction are completely lacking in their case. The main sign of addiction is that the person experiences cravings for the substance and may go out to get the drugs themselves. In the case of infants, they can be managed with proper medications to alleviate the discomfort. With the right medication and intensive care, the infant can have a normal life as they grow.
Can a pregnant opioid addict get treated before childbirth?
Getting proper treatment for opioid addiction is absolutely important to ensure the safety of your child as well as a safe delivery. A pregnant woman can be treated for drug addiction with certain medications that have been prescribed to drug addicts frequently to help with withdrawal symptoms.
These medications include Buprenorphine and Methadone. These drugs are often administered in hospitals and rehab facilities to individuals who are suffering from the negative effects of drug abuse. It is the first-line treatment and completely safe for both mother and child.
It is also important that these treatments are administered early in pregnancy to avoid complications.
How can one prevent Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
The best way to prevent NAS is to avoid the use of illicit drugs, especially during pregnancy. Discuss any drug use or dependencies with a doctor before getting pregnant. If it is a case of addiction, opt for an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation program, depending on the severity of the addiction.
Avoid the misuse of medications without medical prescription and seek advice from a physician before starting any medication during pregnancy.