Because heroin is one of the most widely abused drugs in the country, many women find themselves addicted to heroin after they become pregnant. While being addicted to heroin at any point is never a good thing, it’s especially unfortunate when the life of an unborn child is involved. Naturally, heroin produces many undesirable side effects in infants, from withdrawal syndromes to birth defects. Learn more about how heroin affects pregnancy and what steps to take if you’re pregnant and addicted to heroin.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
One of the biggest side effects of taking heroin while pregnant is neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is when the child becomes dependent on heroin before they even leave the womb. Once they are born and their connection to regular heroin doses is severed, they’ll begin to go through withdrawal, much like you might. Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome include:
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Excessive crying
- Slow weight gain
To prevent your baby from suffering life-altering consequences, they’ll need to stay in the hospital and receive medications to help relieve their symptoms. Over time, they’ll gradually be weaned off these medications until they can adjust to being entirely opioid-free.
Other Side Effects Associated With Heroin Use During Pregnancy
Unfortunately, neonatal abstinence syndrome isn’t the only hurdle your newborn will face if you continue to take heroin during your pregnancy. There are a number of other side effects they could experience, including:
- Neural tube defects, which involve the spinal cord, spine, and brain
- Being born too early
- Having a low birthweight
- Congenital heart defects, which is when the heart doesn’t form correctly
- Gastroschisis, which is when there is a hole in the baby’s belly that allows the intestines to push through outside the body
What to Do If You’re Addicted and Pregnant
Now that you know a little more about the health problems your baby will be facing if you continue to take heroin, you might want to do something about it. Whatever you do, never stop taking heroin cold turkey. Not only will this be extremely unpleasant for you, but it could have drastic consequences for your child.
If you really want to get clean, consider a drug and alcohol detox program instead. In a drug detox facility, you’ll receive medical care 24/7 to make sure both you and your baby are healthy and safe.
You might also want to look into medication-assisted therapy. This form of treatment feeds your body’s dependency for heroin by replacing it with a safer, medically monitored dose of either buprenorphine or methadone. Over time, you will gradually wean off these medications until you’re drug-free. It’s the least painful way to get off heroin.
Regardless of which step you take to reduce your heroin use, you need to follow it up with drug and alcohol rehab. Drug rehab facilities are the place where you can learn the skills and coping mechanisms necessary to stay clean. There are plenty of programs out there for pregnant and new mothers which are geared towards helping you learn how to care for both your baby and yourself.
The path to getting clean won’t be easy, but it’s an important step if you want to keep your baby safe.