Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can cause many health problems including death. Women who use heroin during pregnancy put their own health and their baby's health at risk. Pregnant women using heroin are at an increased risk for developing complications with their pregnancy, including the stillbirth (death) of their child.
Prenatal heroin exposure can result in poor fetal development of the child, birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth, and even stillbirth. Premature birth can cause many health issues for a newborn as the organs and body functions were not able to fully develop in the womb. Depending on the extent of the mother's heroin use, her baby can also be born addicted to heroin.
A baby born addicted to heroin will begin to exhibit withdrawal symptoms the first few days after birth. These may include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability, excessive crying, trembling and seizures. The initial withdrawal symptoms may last for a week or more. Babies exposed to heroin in the womb may need extra swaddling or cuddling for many months after birth to ease their discomforts. They are also at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
A pregnant woman addicted to heroin should not attempt to quit using heroin on her own. The withdrawal symptoms can cause great distress to the fetus and can result in miscarriage or stillbirth. She should seek professional treatment at a drug rehabilitation center where her withdrawal symptoms and detoxification can be medically managed. Methadone is a drug often used to help heroin users to recover from heroin addiction. Methadone has been used in pregnant women who are addicted to heroin. Doctors can more safely treat the withdrawal symptoms of a baby born to a mother taking methadone than a mother on heroin, and mothers taking methadone have higher weight and healthier babies.
Heroin addiction increases the likelihood of malnutrition, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other diseases. Pregnant women using heroin are at an increased risk for preeclampsia and third trimester bleeding, among other pregnancy complications. Their child is at risk for fetal death, poor fetal development, birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, heroin addiction and withdrawal, and lifelong disabilities.
A pregnant woman who is trying to quit her heroin addiction should seek treatment at a comprehensive drug rehabilitation center where prenatal care and methadone maintenance (if deemed necessary) can help her safely detox and improve the outcome for her and her baby.