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Pregnancy and Addiction: Helping Expectant Moms

Pregnancy and Addiction: How to Help an Expected Mother with a Substance Abuse Problem

You wouldn't think of pregnancy and addiction as going together. Unfortunately, sometimes they do end up together.

Addiction and Pregnancy

"This is what happened with my younger sister.

"I can remember the day we found out about her pregnancy. I never thought it was possible to be so joyous and so disappointed at the same time. We knew that she had a drug addiction, and we were worried about the safety of the baby. To make matters worse, she didn't seem the least bit concerned or deterred.

"When we asked her about stopping her drug use, she laughed at us. She told me later on that she couldn't see any way to heal from her drug addiction. Being pregnant was a hurdle she hadn't expected to have to jump in her life. Honestly, she had no interest in getting sober. In her opinion, she felt that she needed the drugs in order to cope with the idea of being pregnant.

"Now, here we are. We're six months into my sister's pregnancy. Her doctors are concerned about the health of the baby. There's no doubt that damage has been done because of her substance abuse. My family knows that there is a way for her to get the drug treatment she needs. We just don't know how to make it happen for her. We need help."

Drug use among pregnant women is much more common than you might think. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has some interesting statistics to offer on this subject.

One of them states that between 2000 and 2012, there were 21,732 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. What this means is that these babies are born with withdrawal syndrome. Their mothers were using opioid drugs during the pregnancy. Alcohol use and the use of other drugs during pregnancy also have their complications.

It's possible that you can relate to the above story. You have a loved who is pregnant suffering from an addiction. You need as much information as you can. You also need to know how to get her help.

Addiction and Pregnancy

The Risks of Addiction in Pregnancy for Moms and Their Babies

For women, pregnancy is supposed to be an exciting time for them. It should be a time of picking out baby names, decorating a nursery, and preparing for the new arrival. Unfortunately, far too many pregnant women also have addictions. What many of them don't realize is that they are putting their babies at risk.

New moms are advised to make strict changes to their lives when they realize they're pregnant. They may be advised to rest more often, or change the foods they eat. When a new mother is also an addict, it creates a host of problems.

When addiction occurs during pregnancy, the result can be any of the following:

  • Miscarriage and Stillbirth: When a child dies before the 24th week of pregnancy, it is called a miscarriage. Miscarriages can be caused by a number of issues, and substance abuse is one of them. When a child is born without signs of life after the 24th week, the baby is stillborn. Many addicted pregnant women suffer from both conditions.
  • Premature Labor and Birth: Premature babies are those born before the 37th week in pregnancy. These babies often have problems with breathing, eating and drinking. They may have difficulty regulating their body temperature. Their lungs may also be immature. Both alcohol and drug abuse can result in premature labor and birth.
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol reaches the baby through the umbilical cord. As a result, the baby could suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
  • Placental Abruption: Placental abruption occurs when the placenta begins to separate from the uterine wall. This happens before labor begins. This can cause developmental problems in the child. Alcohol or drug use can result in placental abruption.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: NAS can cause a lot of complications in babies of mothers who are addicted to opioid drugs. Seizures, vomiting and fever are all common.

Additional birth defects can also result in a baby whose mother is an addict or an alcoholic. The baby could have a small head circumference. The baby is also at a higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Low birth weight and behavioral problems in childhood are also common.

The Effects of Substance Abuse During Pregnancy Explained

As you might assume, different types of addictions can have different effects while a woman is pregnant. Let's take a closer look at some common addictions and their effects during pregnancy.

When the Mother is an Alcoholic

Alcohol and pregnancy don't mix. An expectant mother who drinks alcohol is at risk of liver and kidney damage. She is also at risk of high blood pressure and premature birth. Her risk of developing cancer increases, and she may also have a weakened immune system.

The newborn is at risk for similar issues. These include kidney problems and heart issues. The baby may have problems with behavior as a child, and learning can also be affected. If the baby has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, he or she may have abnormal facial features. Fetal death is also a possibility.

When the Mother has a Marijuana Addiction

Mothers who use marijuana during pregnancy are at a risk of having a rapid heart rate. They may develop anxiety and depression. They could experience memory problems and insomnia. They also are at risk of lung and breathing issues.

For the baby, the risks include low birth weight and premature birth. The baby could also be stillborn. He or she could have marijuana withdrawal symptoms upon birth.

When the Mother has a Cocaine Addiction

New mothers with cocaine addictions are at risk for extreme weight loss, which is dangerous. They could also have a heart attack, a stroke, or suffer from respiratory failure. If they share needles, they could get infections.

For the newborn baby, the risks are severe. There is a high risk of miscarriage and stillbirth for pregnant mothers with cocaine addictions. Babies could be born with low birth weight and small head circumference.

When the Mother has a Heroin Addiction

A heroin addiction is dangerous for a pregnant mother. She runs the risk of heart or lung infection from sharing needs. She could also develop kidney disease or liver disease. She may suffer from respiratory failure, or even slip into a coma.

Babies of heroin addicted mothers could be stillborn. Their risk of NAS and SIDS dramatically increase. Placental abruption is fairly common, as is low birth weight and premature birth.

The Connection Between Co-Occurring Disorders, Alcoholism and Drug Addiction For Pregnant Moms

Co-occurring disorders are actually very common among people with drug addictions or alcoholism. The same is true for pregnant women with addictions. It's not uncommon for a pregnant woman to be unaware of any co-occurring disorder. There are some conditions that can develop during pregnancy.

Co-occurring disorders typically develop prior to an addiction. Although, it is possible to develop them as a result of drug abuse or alcohol abuse. They go hand in hand because addicts will frequently use substances as a way to improve their symptoms.

Some examples of co-occurring disorders include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Schizophrenia

For a pregnant woman with an addiction, it is critical to identify any co-occurring disorders. Doing so will help to ensure that she gets the help she needs. The two conditions can and should be treated side by side. Doing so will increase her chances of a successful recovery.

Talking with a New Mom About Addiction Treatment

Perhaps you have a loved one who is pregnant, and she also has an addiction. It's important to have a conversation with her about treatment. This might make you feel a bit nervous because you're not sure what to say. We'd like to offer you some guidance. You can follow these steps:

  • Learn as much as you can about addiction, and addiction during pregnancy. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to talk with her.
  • Talk with her when you know she hasn't been using. You have a better chance of getting a favorable response.
  • Let her know that you love her and you want to help you. Tell her that you won't be enabling her addiction in any way.
  • Be firm in the words you use. Talk about specific examples of how her addictive behavior is negatively influencing her life. Tell her about the dangers of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy.
  • Ask her to get treatment; if not for her own good, for the good of the baby.

Please be prepared for her to tell you no. If she does, you may want to consider an intervention as the next step.

The Dangers of Withdrawal Symptoms for a Pregnant Mother

Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and even more so for expectant mothers. Some withdrawal symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Extreme depression
  • The possibility of suicidal thoughts or gestures
  • The possibility of seizures
  • Severe anxiety
  • Dizziness, which can affect coordination

A pregnant woman should never try to detox from drugs or alcohol on her own. Professional drug and alcohol detox is necessary to ensure that it's done safely. Alcohol and drug treatment facilities have natural methods and other methods that are very safe during pregnancy.

Addiction Relapse for the Expecting Mother: What You Should Do

An addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, unfortunately. This means that anyone is at risk of relapsing back into drug or alcohol use. Because of the unique challenges they face, pregnant women may be even more at risk.

If your loved one goes to drug treatment or alcohol treatment and then relapses, act quickly. It's important for her to get back into treatment. You can avoid her relapsing by helping her understand the need for follow up care. Ongoing treatment is so important for those with addictions. Without it, a relapse is actually quite likely.

Alcohol Abuse and Drug Abuse Treatment Can Help New Mothers Recover

A pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most beautiful times in a new mother's life. Expecting a baby can bring so much joy to a family, but it can also bring heartache. When the expectant mother has an addiction, there can be so many issues with the mom, and with the baby. If this is a situation you're currently facing in your family, you may feel as though there is no hope. Fortunately, there is hope.

Professional addiction treatment is available to help her recover from her addiction. She may think that recovery is impossible for her. So many new mothers have entered drug and alcohol rehab to overcome their addictions. However, it is important to find a substance abuse program that specializes in helping pregnant women. They often have so many issues they need to overcome. They be dealing with:

  • Morning sickness
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Problems at home
  • Stress because of unsupportive significant others

When these issues factor in, it's easy to see why they would turn to substances. However, the right drug and alcohol treatment center can show them other ways to cope.

At Northpoint Washington, we'd like the opportunity to talk with you about your addicted loved one. If she's currently pregnant with an addiction, there is help available for her, and for you. This time is absolutely critical for her health and the health of her baby. It's so important to act quickly.

Do you have a loved one who is pregnant and addicted? If you do, and you need help finding addiction treatment, please contact us.