Heroin is an opiate that is illegal and never safe in any amount or form for people who use it.
Heroin is also very dangerous to unborn babies when it is used by their mothers during pregnancy.
The term ‘heroin babies’ is commonly used to refer to infants born to women with a heroin drug addiction who are at risk for a number of complications during pregnancy, birth, and later in life.
How Drug Use In Pregnant Women Leads To Heroin Babies
If a woman uses heroin or any other drug during pregnancy, she is passing the substance through her placenta to her unborn baby, just as she is passing oxygen and nutrients.
Heroin is a very powerful drug and can have strong effects on unborn babies, including causing addiction in them during the pregnancy and withdrawal symptoms after they are born.
Effects Of Heroin Drug Addiction On Babies
The following are some of the effects that using heroin during pregnancy can have on the unborn fetus.
Effects On Birth Weight
Babies who are born to mothers addicted to heroin and other illegal drugs can have low birth weights, which is considered any birth weight under 5.5 pounds.
Unfortunately, babies that are born with low weights can have trouble eating, gaining weight, and fighting off infections.
Babies with low birth weights also tend to have smaller head circumferences and can be stunted in other ways physically as well.
Babies born before 37 weeks are considered preterm, but there are vast differences in preterm babies depending on how far along they are.
A baby born at 36 weeks may be completely healthy, while a baby born at 26 weeks has a poor chance of survival.
Heroin use can cause premature birth in a couple of ways. Using heroin can trigger preterm labor, but stopping the use of heroin cold turkey in a long-term user can also trigger it.
Because of this, it’s important for a pregnant woman to detox under the supervision of her health care provider to ensure the opioid is leaving the body at a safe rate for both mother and baby.
Effects To The Placenta
Heroin use can cause the placenta to unattach prematurely from the uterus, which results in the baby being deprived of important nutrients and oxygen.
This unattachment of the placenta is called a placental abruption, which is generally only caused by extreme trauma, like a fall or car accident, or substance abuse during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, up to 15% of babies die during a placental abruption, and it can also cause internal bleeding for the mother that is considered a medical emergency.
Drug-Dependent At Birth
Babies whose mothers used heroin during pregnancy will likely be born with a dependency on heroin, depending on the extent of their mother’s use.
This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). It occurs when a baby is cut off from the drug they were receiving through the placenta and faces uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
This condition usually lasts about six months into the postpartum period and almost always requires extra care and monitoring for the newborn.
Other Dangers Of Heroin Drug Use During Pregnancy
Not all of the effects of heroin on a baby are evident at the baby’s birth. Some healthcare complications may only arise a few months later or as the baby enters childhood.
Heroin use during pregnancy has been shown to cause both physical and mental developmental delays later in childhood.
Babies born to mothers who use heroin tend to be smaller in a lot of ways, not just in birth weight, and are commonly underdeveloped as well if born prematurely. They may also have certain birth defects associated with heroin use.
Some babies will recover and lead normal lives, while others will have an extremely difficult time catching up to their peers in size and development.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
There is an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies whose mothers used heroin or other substances during pregnancy.
Some researchers believe this risk could be up to 10 times more likely in babies of substance-abusing mothers.
SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants younger than a year old, and yet it is still unknown what causes SIDS. For this reason, the link between drug use during pregnancy and SIDS is not completely understood.
Babies born to mothers who are heroin users exhibit breathing abnormalities at times after birth. Since SIDS is shown to be related to how babies breathe during sleep, this could be where the connection lies.
Health Problems Later In Life
While there may be some evidence to suggest a link to heroin babies and health problems later in life, at this time there is not enough research available on the subject.
However, there is no doubt that some children will carry the problems they faced as heroin babies into adulthood.
Heroin use and possession is illegal, and any woman who uses heroin during pregnancy faces the potential for incarceration.
Unfortunately, any child with an incarcerated parent is then at an increased risk for mental, physical, and behavioral health problems as they get older.
Treatment For Babies Affected By Heroin Addiction During Pregnancy
Babies born with NAS experience a lot of discomfort for the first six months of their lives, and often need extra comfort and calories, as they will be fussy.
In some instances, the baby may need to be monitored for a time period in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before leaving the hospital.
In severe cases, the baby may be treated with the same medications that his mother would be treated with, such as methadone or buprenorphine.
Find out more about medication-assisted treatment for heroin.
Seek Treatment For Heroin Use Today
At Bedrock Recovery Center, we understand that to stop using heroin is easier said than done. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and recovery is possible.
Our treatment program specialists can answer questions you may have about heroin addiction or any other substance use disorder, and help you take the first steps toward entering a rehab center.
You deserve a healthy and sober lifestyle — give us a call today.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/how-does-heroin-abuse-affect-pregnant-women
- National Library of Medicine https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8735375/
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007313.htm