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Cocaine Effects On Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

Cocaine use always comes with risks. When you’re pregnant, those risks increase and affect not just you but the baby you’re carrying as well. Cocaine use can lead to low birth weight, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and other side effects.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that there are roughly 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies every year.

All evidence suggests that cocaine use during pregnancy and nursing is harmful to both mother and child.

Cocaine Use During Pregnancy

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact long-term effects of cocaine on a child who was exposed in utero.

People who use cocaine are also likely to use alcohol and receive less prenatal health care through their pregnancy. All of these factors complicate attempts at controlled research.

What we do know is what cocaine use does to the pregnant person. The combination of cocaine and pregnancy is incredibly dangerous for both you and your fetus.

Effects Of Cocaine Use On The Pregnant Woman

Pregnancy puts your body through its paces, especially your heart. Your blood volume increases about 40%. Your resting heart rate ramps up to handle all of the extra work.

Cocaine also puts your heart to work. The drug actively increases your heart rate. Simultaneously, cocaine decreases coronary blood flow.

This combination means that a pregnant person using cocaine is more likely to have serious health issues.

These may include:

  • dangerously high heart rate
  • dangerously high blood pressure
  • arrhythmias
  • stroke
  • heart attack

The effects of cocaine on the cardiovascular system are severe. They may even be life-threatening. Unfortunately, they’re worse for the fetus.

Effects Of Cocaine Use On The Fetus

During pregnancy, the fetus is entirely dependent on you. That makes them vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drug use.

With cocaine use, the primary concern is cardiovascular changes. Fluctuations in blood pressure can be particularly dangerous.

Cocaine use during pregnancy is associated with a variety of health problems. The most worrisome are premature birth, eclampsia, and placental abruption.

All may be life-threatening for the fetus, while several may be life-threatening for you.

Risks Of Cocaine Use During Pregnancy

Using cocaine when you are pregnant is not like using cocaine under normal circumstances. The negative effects are exacerbated by the natural changes that come with pregnancy.

Cocaine use during pregnancy is associated with a wide range of pregnancy complications. While some can be managed by your healthcare provider, others may cause lasting harm.

Premature Birth

If you continue to use cocaine, your fetus is more likely to be born before 37 weeks gestation. The earlier the baby is born, the more likely they are to have lasting deficits.

Preterm birth has a low survival rate. Those who do survive may suffer from lasting developmental disabilities.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs when an infant’s body has become dependent on the drugs they were exposed to in utero.

Experts are unsure whether cocaine use alone can cause NAS. Infants with prenatal cocaine exposure do have specific behavioral markers.

They’re more likely to:

  • be irritable
  • be hyperactive
  • have tremors
  • have a high pitched cry
  • demonstrate incessant sucking

The debate in pediatrics remains whether these markers are a direct effect of cocaine still active in the child’s bloodstream or if they are signs of withdrawal.

Low Birth Weight

Infants who were exposed to cocaine in utero are more likely to be small. They generally weigh less, have a smaller head circumference, and aren’t as long as other infants.

By itself, smaller size isn’t always a cause for concern. It’s the fact that the diminutive size of these babies indicates that cocaine use has inhibited fetal growth.

Placental Abruption

A placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus before your body is prepared for labor.

The extraordinarily high blood pressure that results from the combination of pregnancy and cocaine use puts you at increased risk for this dangerous complication.

With placental abruption there is a high risk of hemorrhage. Without immediate medical intervention you could bleed out, and your baby could die.

The condition is normally rare in obstetrics. Unfortunately, using cocaine significantly increases your risk.

Despite its general rarity, placental abruption is a leading cause of maternal and perinatal death.


Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy in the first trimester. They are relatively common with about one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage.

Using cocaine during pregnancy puts your embryo at even higher risk. Miscarriage is not usually physically harmful to the pregnant person, but it can do a great deal of psychological damage.

Effects Of Cocaine While Breastfeeding

Your breast milk is a byproduct of everything you put into your body. That includes any illicit drugs. Even in small amounts, there is a risk of passing cocaine into your infant’s system.

Short-Term Effects Of Cocaine-Laced Breast Milk On The Baby

Infants do not have the ability to metabolize drugs in the same way adults do. The short-term effects of cocaine-laced breast milk on infants has proven to be severe.

Short-term side effects may include:

  • seizures
  • high blood pressure
  • irritability
  • irregular heartbeat

Long-Term Effects Of Cocaine Use While Breastfeeding

You may see more severe symptoms in your infant after extended exposure or if you increase your cocaine use.

In any case, the long-term effects of cocaine use while breastfeeding are even more serious.

Your infant is more likely to experience cardiac irregularities and behavioral problems with continued exposure. The cardiac effects could be life-threatening.

Other Risks Of Cocaine Abuse

The primary risks associated with cocaine use are cardiovascular. The repeated stress to the heart causes lasting changes that make you more vulnerable to heart attack and stroke.

Extended cocaine use can also damage your stomach and your brain.

Ulcers and tears in the gastrointestinal tract are common side effects. Evidence also suggests that years of cocaine abuse impair cognitive function.

Treatment Options For Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is serious, but help is available. Qualified cocaine treatment programs offer help with detox and withdrawal.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, you can also find comprehensive programs with treatment options for both inpatient and outpatient behavioral therapy.

Find Cocaine Addiction Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

There is no safe amount of cocaine use. If you’re pregnant, then it is vital to ask for help today.

Bedrock Recovery Center can help you get through withdrawal to immediately make pregnancy safer for you and your baby.

Written by
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team

©2023 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.

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