Addiction is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a chronic illness that affects millions of Americans, including pregnant women. Research shows that more than 17 million people struggle with alcohol addiction and almost 25 million adults abuse illegal and prescription drugs.1
Nobody plans to get addicted to drugs or alcohol, but you can choose to get help, and you will not be alone: Data from addiction treatment admissions shows that around 5% of women (of child-bearing age) are pregnant when they enter rehab.2
Risks of Abusing Drugs and Alcohol During Pregnancy
No matter how it’s ingested—whether by drinking, smoking, snorting, swallowing, or injecting—any substance consumed during pregnancy could pass to your baby. Many substances pass easily through the placenta and the umbilical cord, which means that if you are smoking marijuana, your baby essentially is too. Recent research shows that using illegal drugs, taking prescription pain relievers, and smoking tobacco or marijuana while you are pregnant can double or even triple the risk of stillbirth.3
Drug rehab for pregnant women can help reduce dangerous risks. The use of some drugs during pregnancy can be fatal to the baby.3 Others can lead to issues with fetal development or inflict other forms of long-term damage. Using drugs while pregnant can result in:3
- Low birth weight.
- Birth defects.
- Withdrawal symptoms after birth.
- Small head circumference.
- Premature birth.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Drinking during your pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. Alcohol use during pregnancy is one of the leading causes of developmental disabilities. When you drink while pregnant, the alcohol in your blood passes to your baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking during your pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities.4 These are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Children with FASDs can show following characteristics and behaviors:4
- Abnormal facial features.
- Small head size.
- Shorter-than-average height.
- Low body weight.
- Poor coordination.
- Hyperactive behavior.
- Difficulty with attention.
- Poor memory.
- Difficulty in school (especially with math).
- Learning disabilities.
- Speech and language delays.
- Intellectual disability or low IQ.
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills.
- Sleep and sucking problems as a baby.
- Vision or hearing problems.
- Problems with the heart, kidney, or bones.
Regular drug use during pregnancy can also cause your baby to experience withdrawal symptoms after he or she is born. The type and severity of withdrawal symptoms that your baby can experience varies depending on what substance was abused and how often. Drug rehab for pregnant women can help prevent the following symptoms of withdrawal when your baby is born:3
- Blotchy skin.
- Excessive or high-pitched crying.
- Poor feeding.
- Rapid breathing.
- Increased heart rate.
- Slow weight gain.
Help is Available for Pregnant Women and New Moms
Rehab for pregnant women is available for those who need it. These programs are private and confidential, and clinicians are sympathetic to your struggles with addiction. They know that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, so they won’t judge you for being unprepared.4 Rehab centers for pregnant women know that pregnancy can change everything, because you are suddenly responsible for another life.
Drug and alcohol rehab can also be a lifeline for mothers and newborn babies. Caring for an infant is extraordinarily stressful for even the most prepared parents. Many women who stay sober during pregnancy relapse shortly after the baby is born. Stress and exhaustion are powerful triggers that can lead women back to drugs or alcohol. Other factors, such as postpartum depression, can push new mothers to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), new moms should avoid heavy drinking while breastfeeding to avoid health consequences for the baby.5 It is also unsafe to use any illegal drugs while breastfeeding. Drug use while breastfeeding can cause seizures, vomiting, poor feeding, and tremors in your baby.5 The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to enter rehab for pregnant women and new mothers.
Rehab Treatment Information
Detox for Pregnant Women
Detoxification from drugs and alcohol is the first step on the path to recovery. For pregnant women, detox is a critical period because your baby is detoxing, too. During detox, your body eliminates the drugs and alcohol that it is physically dependent on. It is vital that a pregnant woman looking to detox enrolls in a 24-hour medical facility, such as a hospital or inpatient program. Some 24-hour detox programs provide constant supervision and care but in a social setting; that is often effective and safe for non-pregnant women with mild addictions, but that is not a safe environment for a pregnant woman. Pregnant women require around-the-clock medical treatment in order to prevent and address any complications that may raise.10
Doctors and nurses monitor the detox process and safely manage withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the substance being eliminated from the body and severity of the patient’s dependence, doctors may prescribe medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms and ease cravings for the drug. For instance, if a woman has a severe addiction to alcohol and is at risk of experiencing withdrawal complications, such as grand mal seizures, benzodiazepines could possibly be used to keep her and her baby safe, but typically on a case-by-case basis. This is because research appears to be mixed on whether or not benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Valium, are safe for pregnant women. That being said, if the potential benefits of administering benzos to a pregnant woman seem to outweigh the risk of dangerous consequences, then benzos may be used.11
Withdrawal from alcohol and drugs can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Rehab centers for pregnant women have staff who are trained to manage withdrawal symptoms for both mother and baby. Depending on the substances abused, withdrawal symptoms could include:6,7
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Loss of appetite.
- Fast heart rate.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Irritability and agitation.
In rehab for pregnant women, physicians assess each individual mother to determine the best course of treatment for her and her baby. They can help manage potential risks and complications, such as seizures and delirium. Some women will be treated with medications to ease withdrawal, combat cravings, and help them stay sober during pregnancy. Expectant mothers struggling with opioid addiction can safely take methadone while pregnant. Methadone manages withdrawal symptoms and prevents dangerous relapses. Methadone is safe during pregnancy, but the baby could still experience withdrawal symptoms after birth.8
Comprehensive Treatment for Mothers and Families
Research shows that a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment program can help women recover from addiction.
Detox alone is not enough to successfully treat drug and alcohol addiction; it is only the first step in a process. Pregnant women and new mothers struggling with substance abuse need a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the root cause of their addiction. People who leave detox without transitioning into long-term addiction treatment run the risk of relapsing.
Research shows that a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment program can help women recover from addiction. Such a program could include individual counseling, peer-to-peer support groups, and group therapy sessions. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one treatment method that can help pregnant women and new moms make better decisions. In CBT, patients learn to identify negative thought patterns and develop healthy coping skills so they are better equipped to handle problems that arise without resorting to drug or alcohol abuse.9
As a new parent, you will face several stressful situations. Learning the proper skills to help you deal with that stress is a great way to take care of yourself and your baby. When you are pregnant, there are a number of things you can do to better prepare yourself for your future role as a mother. Rehab centers for pregnant women may offer a variety of different services to help you build a healthy family:
- Pregnancy education and counseling.
- Parenting classes.
- Prenatal care.
- Individual, group, and family therapy.
- Life skills workshops.
- Job training and placement.
If you are pregnant and have been using drugs or alcohol, you can still help your baby. Starting addiction treatment today can make a difference.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Nationwide Trends.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Trends in Substances of Abuse among Pregnant Women and Women of Childbearing Age in Treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Alcohol Use in Pregnancy.
- Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Breastfeeding.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Alcohol Withdrawal.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Opiates and Opioid Withdrawal.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Methadone Treatment for Pregnant Women.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). What Are the Unique Needs of Pregnant Women with Substance Use Disorders?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment, Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), 45.
- Heberlein, A., Leggio, L, Stichtenoth, D., & Thomas, H. (2012). The Treatment of Alcohol and Opioid Dependence in Pregnant Women. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 25(6), 559-564.