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Abstract Maternal drug use/alcoholism has a direct impact on the fetus. Alcohol enters the mother’s body and then passes through the placenta which then directly affects the fetus. Although the mother may be able to process the alcohol, the fetus doesn’t absorb it as fast and alcohol doesn’t pass through the fetus’ system the same way. When alcohol or illegal substances are in the unborn child’s system, then there will be a direct impact on the growth of it and there will be severe damage to its central nervous system (CNS). The use of illegal substances such as drugs have an even larger impact on the fetus.

Certain substances such as Heroin, Cannabis, Methamphetamine, and Cocaine can cause the fetus to be addicted to the narcotic and become dependent on it. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms that might even result in death. The child will grow with physical and even mental disabilities such as ADHD, behavioral issues, a lower intelligence quotient, and/or developmental delays. It is best advised to just refrain from any drugs or alcohol if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or you think that you are pregnant. Introduction     During a pregnancy a mother may experience moments of temptation of alcohol or even drugs. Doing any of those options may result in affecting their unborn child. If a mother consumes alcohol or drugs, it would enter her bloodstream and reach her developing fetus by crossing the placenta. The alcohol would interfere with the delivery of oxygen and optimal nutrition to the developing baby.

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 Exposure to alcohol or drugs before birth would result in harming the development of tissues and organs which may cause permanent brain damage (Mayo Clinic).  During the first trimester, if a mother drinks or consumes harmful drugs, she puts a greater risk to the fetus because its brain, heart, and blood vessels begin to develop in the early weeks of her pregnancy. The severity of birth defects associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can vary depending on the intensity, duration, and frequency of exposure to alcohol during gestation. Some are known to be growth deficiencies, minor face abnormalities, and damage to the developing central nervous system.  The concept of fetal alcohol syndrome refers to a set of birth defects that occur in children born to mothers who abuse alcohol during pregnancy (Embryo Project Encyclopedia). Although there is a broad range of symptoms, it is difficult to determine how many children are impacted with maternal drinking. In 2012, the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention estimated that for every 1,000 children born in the United States, between 0.2 and 1.

5 are born with FAS (Embryo Project Encyclopedia).   The using of illegal drugs during a pregnancy have been proven to show birth defects, miscarriages, premature birth, and the baby may be born addicted to that drug that its mother was using during her pregnancy (American Pregnancy Association).  A common drug used during a pregnancy is marijuana. The effects of that drug are devastating because the child begins to not receive the proper amount of oxygen that they need to grow. Other commonly used drugs that have similar effects are opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine. The before mentioned drugs may have even more devastating effects such as a miscarriage, premature labor, or placental abruption.

  Alcohol and drugs not only cause irreversible effects but also there is emotional damage. When a mother consumes alcohol or takes an illegal substance, then the child may receive brain damage that might cause them to work at a slower pace than their peers or they’ll have behavioral problems.  The behavioral effects of opiates start to appear into the childhood of the affected fetus. Marijuana causes attention problems and causes impulse behavior for the child at around 10 years old and methamphetamine has shown drowsy or stressed babies. Research has proved that children who have been exposed alcohol and drugs when they were a fetus also may have a lower intelligence quotient (IQ) level.

These children begin to have troubles with their memory and problem-solving skills. Studies have shown that babies born with brain defects were twice as likely to have a mother who used illegal drugs in pregnancy than babies with normal brains. Of the 517 women studies, one in six had used recreational drugs – predominantly cannabis and cocaine – around conception or during pregnancy, which was confirmed by testing hair samples (The Conversation).  Almost all commonly used recreational drugs cross the placenta. The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. It provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby and it removes waste from its blood (Mayo Clinic). Furthermore, this would result in the unsuspecting fetus receiving unnecessary harmful products from its mother.

   Fetal Alcohol Syndrome The concept of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) refers to a set of birth defects that occur in children born to mothers who abused alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol induced defects include pre- and post-natal growth deficiencies, minor face abnormalities, and damage to the developing central nervous system (Embryo Project Encyclopedia). The effects of the alcohol range from the amount and how long the mother has been drinking.

The mother’s genetics also play a factor into how the baby is affected. On top of that, if the mother can’t metabolize alcohol that well, then that will impact the alcohol-induced abnormalities.  The number of children that are impacted by maternal drinking are difficult to determine. A study by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that for every 1,000 children born in the US, between 0.2 and 1.5 are born with FAS (Embryo Project Encyclopedia).

  The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and when maternal drinking is involved, the growing baby will receive that toxic substance as well. There isn’t an exact amount of alcohol that a pregnant woman has to ingest to determine FAS, so it is just recommended to not drink alcohol at all during a pregnancy.  The symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome may vary, it just depends on the extremity of the amount of alcohol ingested. There could be physical defects, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, or problems functioning and coping with daily life.

The social issue/behavioral issues for a child that is affected with fetal alcohol syndrome may be difficulty in school, poor social skills, problems staying on task (ADHD), and/or difficulty with behavior and impulse control (Mayo Clinic).  To prevent fetal alcohol syndrome from happening refrain from alcohol during pregnancy, if you think you are pregnant, or you are trying to become pregnant. Another tip would be to consider giving up alcohol during childbearing years (because many pregnancies are unplanned) so that damage may not occur in the earliest weeks of pregnancy.

 Harmful Drugs Cannabis Cannabis crosses the placenta to the fetus and it directly affects the growing baby. Cannabis contains toxins that keep the fetus from getting the proper amount of oxygen that he/she needs to grow. Moreover, it affects the baby because it increases the levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the blood, which reduces the oxygen supply to the baby. Smoking cannabis during a pregnancy can increase the chance of a miscarriage, low birth weight, premature births, developmental delays, and/or behavioral and learning problems (American Pregnancy Association).

 Cocaine Cocaine crosses the placenta and enters the fetus’ circulation. The elimination of that harmful substance is slower in a fetus than in an adult so its effects would be far greater. Consuming this illegal drug would result in a preterm birth, it can cause a placental abruption (which could lead to severe bleeding), and even fetal death.

In the early months, according to the Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS), cocaine exposure may increase the risk of a miscarriage (American Pregnancy Association).    Methamphetamine When a pregnant woman takes methamphetamine, her heart rate increases which would cause the heart rate of the fetus that she is carrying to increase as well. The problems that incur with the consumption of methamphetamine during a pregnancy are similar to those that happen with cocaine in pregnancy. The use of methamphetamine can cause the baby to receive less oxygen, which can lead to low birth weight. The difficulties that occur with the ingestion of this substance can be the likelihood of premature labor, miscarriage, or placental abruption. Babies can be born addicted to this substance and will go through withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, sleeplessness, muscle spasms, and feeding difficulties that may result as the child ages (American Pregnancy Association). Heroin Heroin is a very addictive drug that crosses the placenta to the fetus (similar to the other drugs that are mentioned). Since heroin is such an addicting drug, the unborn baby has a higher chance of being dependent on the drug.

Using heroin while you are pregnant increases the chance of premature birth, low birth weight, breathing difficulties, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), bleeding within the brain (intracranial hemorrhage), and infant death. The withdrawal symptoms that the baby would have to go through include irritability, convulsions, diarrhea, fever, sleep abnormalities, and joint stiffness. Mothers who take this drug are more susceptible to HIV because of the fact that she is injecting the narcotics. If she were to be diagnosed with HIV, there is a high chance that she can pass it to her unborn child (American Pregnancy Association). Tobacco The use of tobacco when you are pregnant can cause a miscarriage, the baby to be born too early, have a low birth weight, possibility to be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, or the fetus could even die. Smoking during and after pregnancy is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is an infant death for which the cause of death is unknown.

According to the 2011 Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System data from 24 states, approximately 10% of women reported smoking during the last 3 months of pregnancy. Not only that but also of the women who smoked 3 months before pregnancy, 55% quit during pregnancy. Among women who quit smoking during pregnancy, 40% started smoking again within 6 months after delivery (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).       Conclusion After doing research over these topics, the best option for a woman who is pregnant, thinking about being pregnant, or is not sure if they are pregnant should be careful on what they ingest because the first few weeks are the most important in the growth of a fetus. Alcohol and harmful drugs cause birth defects that are irreversible and it not only puts stress on the mother, but the innocent baby as well. The use of drugs causes more damage on the such as addiction when the child is born and learning difficulties. When these harmful substances enter the mother, they cross the placenta.

The placenta is usually the organ that is used for giving the fetus its nutrients and when these substances enter its body, then the fetus won’t process it the same way its mother would. This would cause even more harmful effects to it because the substances would be in the unborn baby for even longer. It is recommended to refrain from any of the substances during and after pregnancy because this could result in abuse or neglect. The unborn child doesn’t have a voice for itself so think about what you’d be doing to it if you were to consume any of these harmful things.



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