Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs
Obviously, exposure to drugs prenatally is bad for a baby’s brain. A baby’s brain is growing and developing while you are pregnant, so when drugs are introduced, it can disrupt this growth. The amount of disruption depends on how much you use, how often, and at what point during the pregnancy the baby is exposed to drugs.
Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs: Marijuana
Marijuana crosses the placenta, so when you smoke pot, your baby is affected too. It contains toxins that can keep your baby from getting enough oxygen. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact effect of marijuana on your baby’s brain because many mothers who smoke pot during pregnancy also abuse other substances.
Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs: Cocaine
Cocaine also crosses the placenta and the elimination of cocaine is slower in a fetus than in an adult. Cocaine can cause defects in the brain, developmental problems, and learning difficulties in your baby. Babies can become addicted to cocaine in utero and suffer withdrawal symptoms when they are born including tremors, sleeplessness, muscle spasm, and feeding difficulties.
Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs: Heroin and narcotic painkillers
Use of heroin or other narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, or Morphine during pregnancy can cause bleeding within the brain (intracranial hemorrhage) and infant death. These drugs are highly addictive, and use during pregnancy can also cause your baby to become addicted. When they are born, they can suffer from withdrawal symptoms like irritability, convulsions, diarrhea, fever, sleep abnormalities, and joint stiffness.
Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs: PCP
PCP can cause numerous problems with your baby’s brain. It has been linked to brain damage, and can cause dependence if used frequently. Withdrawal symptoms include lethargy and tremors.
Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs: Methamphetamine
Taking methamphetamine during pregnancy can result in problems similar to those seen with cocaine use during pregnancy. The use of methamphetamine can cause the baby to get less oxygen, which can inhibit brain development. Methamphetamine is also highly addictive, and your baby may become dependent and suffer from withdrawal.
Your Baby’s Brain on Drugs: Anatomy
Even though behavioral studies clearly show that exposure to drugs, alcohol and tobacco when a baby is in utero is bad for a baby’s brain, specific effects on the anatomy of a baby’s brain have been hard to identify. This is because mothers don’t often limit themselves to one substance. In addition, other demographic factors, like poverty, can influence a baby’s brain on drugs.
However, a recent NIH study has shown that prenatal exposure to cocaine, alcohol, marijuana or tobacco can affect brain structure well into adolescence. More than one million babies born every year in the United States has been exposed to at least one of these substances.
The MRI’s in the study, done on adolescent children who had been exposed to substances prenatally, showed that there were indeed changes in the anatomy of the brain. The exposed children had reduced cortical brain matter and total brain volumes. The effects were shown to be additive: the more the substances the baby was exposed to, the greater the reduction in brain volume.
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