Babies Born to Drug Abusers or Alcohol Drinkers
Most alcoholics and drug abusers know, but often refuse to admit, that they have addictions. Though pregnancy should change their behavior, often it does not. Oblivious to how their unborn infant might respond to their drinking or drug abuse during pregnancy, moms continue to abuse their bodies – and their baby’s developing bodies – with drugs and alcohol, knowing, and at the same time, refusing to believe, that continued use of either drugs or alcohol could harm their growing fetus. But Mom is not the only one responsible for her baby. Read on!
Drinking While Pregnant
As I mention in a previous Help for Single Parents blog, titled, Which is Better – Tobacco, Alcohol, or Marijuana? “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), ‘Alcohol affects every organ in the drinker's body and can damage a developing fetus.’” According to Mayo Clinic, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome symptoms “include any mix of physical defects, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, and problems functioning and coping with daily life.” Alcohol affects Baby’s brain and central nervous system, behavior, and social skills.
Further information from Mayo Clinic about the effects of alcohol on pregnant women include the following:
- Alcohol enters your bloodstream and reaches your developing fetus by crossing the placenta
- Alcohol causes higher blood alcohol concentrations in your developing baby than in your body because a fetus metabolizes alcohol slower than an adult does
- Alcohol interferes with the delivery of oxygen and optimal nutrition to your baby's developing tissues and organs, including the brain
University of Iowa Children’s Hospital lists the following complications for babies born addicted to alcohol:
- Acute ingestion: hyperactivity, tremors for 72h, followed by lethargy for 48h
- Chronic ingestion: consider fetal alcohol ingestion and its spectrum of abnormalities including CNS (Central Nervous System), growth deficiency, facial features, cardiac and musculoskeletal anomalies
The difference between acute and chronic is that acute means an immediate severe problem, such as ingesting a lot of alcohol just prior to the baby’s birth; chronic means that Mom has been drinking throughout most of the pregnancy. If Mom is a chronic drinker, Baby could be born addicted to alcohol, in the same way that chronic drug abuse could result in a baby suffering from withdrawal.
Taking Drugs While Pregnant
Just as alcohol crosses the placenta, so, too, do drugs. Depending upon the type and amount of drugs the woman takes during pregnancy, varying effects on the unborn child occur. Withdrawal may be one of the results. The physical manifestations of those withdrawals is, according to several authorities, child abuse.
The University of Iowa lists the following signs of drug withdrawal:
- Gastrointestinal: Diarrhea, vomiting, ravenous appetite, poor feeding.
- Neurologic: Irritability, jitteriness, restlessness (rubbed knees, rubbed nose), erratic sleeping, fist-sucking, shrill cry, hypertonia, hyperreflexia (overactive or over-responsive reflexes), myoclonus (spasms) and less often seizures. The incidence of seizures is higher in methadone-maintained mothers (10-15%) than in those abusing heroin.
- Signs of heroin withdrawal occur in 50-75% of infants born to addicted mothers and usually begin within the first 24-72 h of life.
What Parents Can Do to Prevent a Baby from Becoming Drug Dependent
Many people place the bulk of the responsibility for the baby’s health on the pregnant mother. If she has a predilection for alcohol or drugs, she knows she needs to stop drinking or abusing drugs, but she needs encouragement and support from people she trusts and loves.
If Mom’s partner continues to abuse alcohol or drugs during the pregnancy, she may find that stopping is difficult. With no support system to buffer her, the stress of pregnancy itself, along with other considerations (i.e., job, home life, finances), may contribute to her feeling that she’s handling her situation alone, and she may decide to drink “just one” or take “only one” pill. One translates to another, however, and then to another, and Mom cannot stop. At a certain point, she stops caring.
The first step in dealing with drinking and drugging while pregnant is admitting you have a problem. The second step is to enlist the help of your partner and outside help. A supportive partner who quits smoking, drinking, and doing drugs with you is a partner who is willing to sacrifice his or her habits for the welfare of the child. EXPECT your partner to support you! And be supportive of him or her as well.
If your partner refuses to be responsible and refuses to participate in your recovery, suggest you both join a group of either Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous. If your partner refuses to help you help yourself and your unborn baby, ask family members to help. If family is not an option, seek friends who want to be part of your support system. If you have no friends, several organizations specific to drug/alcohol addiction, like the ones mentioned above, exist to help you. Find them.
If you don’t take care of the problem while pregnant, you may not be able to bring your baby home from the hospital! Many Departments of Family Services organizations take addicted babies from hospitals directly to foster homes while they await your recovery, and you will miss those first bonding moments.
What Parents Can Do to a Baby Born Addicted
Because addicted babies are considered to be the result of abusive parents (abused because the parents took drugs or drank alcohol during pregnancy and caused their baby to be addicted), some states won’t allow Baby to go home with Mom or Dad and instead may place the infant in a temporary foster home until the parents are deemed capable of caring for their newborn. Why risk losing those first bonding moments with your baby when you can take care of the matter now, while you’re pregnant?
If you’re fortunate enough to bring Baby home, STOP DRINKING and STOP USING! Cuddle, swaddle, and care for your baby. Let your baby know that you value your baby’s wellbeing. He or she will be dependent upon you for the next 18 years.
And don’t resume drinking or doing drugs once the baby is home. Children who grow up with alcoholic or drug abusing mothers and fathers live in fear. I cannot possibly list all of the problems associated with children who grow up with alcoholics, so I will suggest you read Psychological Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics, written by Kenneth J. Sher, Ph.D.
And if you continue to abuse drugs, I suggest you download the report located at the bottom of the article titled, No Safe Haven: Children of Substance-Abusing Parents, which starts out:
Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are almost 3 times likelier to be physically or sexually assaulted and more than 4 times likelier to be neglected by their parents compared to children of parents who are not substance abusers. With 28 million children of alcoholics and several million children of other drug abusers, children and adults in America who, during their lives, have been neglected and/or physically and sexually assaulted by substance-abusing parents constitute a significant portion of our population.
Alcohol and drug abuse contribute to the neglect and abuse of our children. With everything going on in the world today, why subject your baby to a life of more fear and uncertainty? Be a safe haven for your baby.
Photo was found on so many sites, I couldn’t find the original to credit.