As May 13-19 is National Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week, it only seems fitting that we do our part to help raise awareness by sharing with you the many dangers of alcohol and drug abuse on unborn children . . . and the many lasting effects those children suffer upon coming into this world.Some of these just may surprise you.

Prescription Painkillers

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that every hour one baby addicted to prescription painkillers is born. To give you some perspective, this number tripled between 2000 and 2009. Babies suffering from this addiction, which is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, suffer from irritability, tremors, seizures, heightened muscle tone (known as hypertonia), feeding intolerance, and breathing difficulties. A low birth weight is also common and comes with a whole other set of risks.


Drinking while pregnant can cause FASDs (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) which is a series of conditions that affect a person whose mother drank during pregnancy . . . and not just in the newborn or infant stages of life. These conditions include various physical, behavioral, and learning problems. In more severe cases, death is also a possibility. Some of the common issues faced by those who suffer from FASDs include:

  • Heart, bone, and kidney problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Speech and language delays
  • A low IQ
  • Learning disabilities
  • Small head size
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor memory
  • Poor judgment

Tobacco and Marijuana

Smoking cigarettes or marijuana while pregnant increases carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. This not only takes away from the baby’s needed oxygen, it also increases the risk of miscarriage, a low birth weight, premature birth, behavioral and learning issues, and developmental delays.


Babies born to mothers who use cocaine are at risk of an endless number of serious problems that range from withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, insomnia, irritability and even death. Premature births, physical and mental defects are also at an increased risk, along with heart, kidney, and genital defects.


Being highly addictive, heroin use during pregnancy increases the chance of a baby being born addicted to the drug.  Along with the number of problems associated with that addiction, the other risks include things such as low blood sugar, breathing problems, brain hemorrhaging, as well as symptoms of withdrawal. The increased risk of HIV/AIDS in the mother due to injecting heroin is also passed to her baby.

Just Say NO

Regardless of whether its alcohol or drugs, the risk to an unborn baby is serious and potentially lethal. It’s important to understand that there is no known amount of any of these substances that are considered “safe” for use during pregnancy, so even “one little drink” or “just one puff or fix” can do serious and often irreversible damage.

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Cited Sources

Colon, Dalia. “Number Of Newborns Addicted To Painkillers Rising.” 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 10 May 2012.

Koebler, Jason. “Number of Babies Born Addicted to Prescription Painkillers Skyrockets.” U.S. News & World Report, 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 May 2012.

Kaplan, Karen. “A Baby Is Born Addicted to Drugs About Once an Hour, Study Says.” L.A. Times, 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 May 2012.

“Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 10 May 2012.