Fetal Alcohol Syndrome receives regular attention but what happens to babies whose mothers use cocaine in pregnancy? Learn more about how drug use affects the growing baby.

The use of cocaine in pregnancy is not a common topic of conversation in mainstream media. You often hear about the effects of alcohol use on an unborn child. An estimated 1.5 babies out of every 1,000 are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the result of drinking during pregnancy. This only makes sense, though, as drinking alcohol is much more common than cocaine use.

Still, studies show that nearly 5 percent of the population ages 18 to 25 used cocaine in the last year alone. There are still enough people getting high on coke to raise a concern about using it during pregnancy. Most people using the drug are of an age where pregnancy is common. Shouldn’t we have a larger or louder conversation about this?

What are the results of using a hard drug like cocaine when pregnant? If drinking alcohol causes such severe issues, surely the effects of hard drugs must be even worse. Continue reading to learn more about the effects of using cocaine in pregnancy and what you can do to help.

What is Cocaine?

Chances are that you at least know what cocaine is. You may have also heard it called coke or blow. The white powdered substance is commonplace on college campuses and in nightclubs nationwide. Though the effects don’t last very long, it allows you to drink more for longer periods of time. This makes the “party drug” a popular choice when heading out for a night on the town.

Most people who use cocaine can leave it to a single night but what about those who can’t? Even though it isn’t as common as drugs like alcohol, marijuana, or opiates, cocaine addiction is just as serious. Cocaine is a strong, addictive stimulant, or “upper,” that becomes more dangerous when mixed with other substances.

People use coke either by snorting it, smoking it, or mixing it with water and using a needle to inject it. Some people use it to make crack by cutting and cooking it with baking soda. Crack is even more addictive and dangerous than cocaine alone.

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What Are the Side Effects of Cocaine Use?

Cocaine is a stimulant, meaning it causes a sudden rush of energy and heightened sense of euphoria. The effects are short-lived, though, meaning you continue using more to keep the high going or you experience a severe comedown or “crash.” While high you might feel like you’re “on top of the world” and often push yourself to do things you might not normally do.

Coke releases incredible amounts of dopamine in your brain all at once which results in a lack of it the following day. The effects of cocaine while high might seem fun at the time but the crash can feel unbearable. The following day you feel tired, lethargic, and maybe even slightly depressed.

If you use lots of cocaine for months or years, the physical consequences become more severe. You may develop either or both short-term and long-term health problems. Some risks of heavy cocaine use or cocaine addiction include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Stomach pains and nausea
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden and extreme weight loss
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Respiratory failure
  • HIV or hepatitis (if injecting cocaine and sharing dirty needles)

What About Using Cocaine in Pregnancy?

If you use crack or cocaine in pregnancy, you’re not the only one using the drug. Whatever a mother takes into her body ends up passed to the baby in small amounts. This applies not only to food but to alcohol and drugs too. Trace amounts of the substances pass through your umbilical cord and into your developing baby.

The effects on a fully-grown adult have serious consequences so imagine the effects on a small, developing baby. The consequences for the unborn baby when a mother uses cocaine in pregnancy are severe.

Premature Birth

A typical pregnancy last 37 weeks. Doctors consider a baby born before this length of time a premature birth. Also called “preemies,” babies born prematurely face a variety of health complications depending on how early they arrive.

Low Weight at Birth

Babies whose mothers use cocaine in pregnancy may arrive at a lower than average birth weight. An average newborn weighs between 7 and 11 pounds on average. Babies born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces are considered a low birth weight arrival. This may lead to the baby facing difficulties with gaining weight and fighting infections.

Placental Abruption

One of the most serious effects of using cocaine in pregnancy is placental abruption. This occurs when the placental lining, or the membrane that holds the baby, separates from the mother’s uterus before birth. Complications with placental abruption are dangerous and potentially deadly for both the mother and the child.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) refers to a baby born to a mother who is addicted to drugs. Babies with NAS develop an addiction to the drug themselves and experience withdrawal symptoms soon after birth. Mothers addicted to cocaine in pregnancy put their child at risk of having a drug addiction from the moment they enter the world.


Miscarriage is one of the most heartbreaking results of using cocaine in pregnancy. A miscarriage happens when a baby dies in the womb before reaching 20 weeks.

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Finding Help For Cocaine Addiction

If you have never dealt with drug addiction or personally known someone addicted to drugs, you might feel challenged when trying to understand why a pregnant woman can’t stop using. If you are familiar with addiction, though, you know the disheartening reality of the hold that drugs have.

Are you addicted to cocaine or do you know someone struggling to quit using cocaine in pregnancy? When you are stuck in the cycle of drug addiction it seems impossible to escape but you can get clean. Help is available. Attending alcohol and drug addiction treatment may be the push you need.

Facilities like Hawaii Island Recovery help hundreds of people with substance use and mental health disorders find a new way of life. If you want to learn more about the types of treatment available to help you get clean, call us today at 877-721-3556.

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 Hawaii Island Recovery, the Big Island’s premiere residential substance abuse treatment facility for adults, offers a comprehensive treatment program in a tranquil and healing environment.