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What Happens if you Take Crack Cocaine When Pregnant

Pregnancy and crack cocaine are a problem-riddled combination. If you are an active crack user who is pregnant, you probably have a lot of questions about how to handle the situation.

You might be wondering: how long does crack stay in an unborn baby? How long does crack stay in a baby’s system after birth?

There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about crack cocaine and babies. It is important, for the sake of both you and your unborn child, to make sure you’re getting the facts. 

Keep reading, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the impact of a crack cocaine addiction on your child; both before and after birth.

Effects of Crack Cocaine on Fetal Development

Crack cocaine and pregnancy should never mix. The effects that crack will have on your unborn baby depend on a few factors: how often you use, how far into the pregnancy you are, and what medical resources you have at your disposal. 

Crack use makes you much more likely to give birth prematurely. This can be detrimental to your child’s development and is risky even without drugs in the mix. 

Babies that are born prematurely often have immune system issues, failure to meet growth milestones, and other health issues.

The last few weeks of pregnancy are essential to the development of your unborn baby’s brain. At 35 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s brain is only about two-thirds the size that it will be at 40 weeks.

If this final stage of development is disrupted by premature birth, your child’s brain could continue to be underdeveloped well after they are born. 

Babies that are born prematurely and exposed to crack cocaine in the process face even more issues. Their brains may develop improperly, even compared with the average development of a premature baby’s brain. 

Risk of Miscarriage After Crack Use

Using crack while pregnant significantly decreases your chance of carrying the pregnancy to term. Drug use during the first six weeks of pregnancy is especially risky. 

While this can result in premature birth, it also results in a miscarriage.

Regardless of whether or not your pregnancy was planned, the decision to have a child should be yours, and yours alone. When you use crack while pregnant, you run the risk of having that choice made for you. 

A developing fetus does not have the right defences built up to fight off a harmful substance like crack cocaine. 

Your risk of miscarriage will be higher if you use crack cocaine habitually while pregnant. Using one time can still harm your unborn baby, but it is less likely to result in a lost pregnancy. 

How Long Does Crack Stay in an Unborn Baby?

Cocaine will remain in your unborn baby’s system for at least three weeks. That is, if you only use crack one time while pregnant. 

Crack cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs in existence. It is rare for someone to use crack cocaine only once, or even rarely. Once you use crack cocaine, you will probably seek it out again. 

If you are already habitually using crack cocaine when you get pregnant, it is unlikely that you will be able to stop immediately without professional help. 

Since crack cocaine will remain in your unborn baby’s system for at least three weeks, you would need to abstain from the drug for at least that long in order to let your unborn baby detox.

The best way to minimize the damage that drug use does to your unborn baby is to stop using. In order to do that, you may need help from a rehabilitation centre. 

What Is a “Crackhead Baby”?

In the 1980s, the term “crackhead baby” emerged to describe the wave of children that were being born in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic.

The development links between a baby and crack have been researched since the 1970s, but the issue did not enter the public consciousness until the war on drugs was in full swing.

“Crackhead baby” or “crack baby” refers to babies that are born addicted to crack cocaine due to their mother’s use while pregnant. 

It can take months for a newborn baby to finish detoxing from in utero crack cocaine exposure. For an infant, going through withdrawal is even more terrifying than it already is for adults. 

Babies lack a lot of awareness for the first several months of life. When they are first born, they cannot even see what’s going on a few feet away; let alone understand why they are going through the agonizing pain of withdrawal.

When a child is kept in the hospital to go through crack cocaine withdrawal, they are unable to properly bond with their mothers. This can lead to poor emotional and physical health later in life. 

When a crack baby has withdrawal symptoms, their emotional and mental development will be stunted by that trauma. These children are also often unable to live with their mothers at all, which further traumatizes them.

Babies born to crack-addicted mothers are also unlikely to develop healthily in a physical sense. They often have immune system problems, are unable to breastfeed.

Long Term Effects on Your Child’s Health

Crack cocaine exposure in utero can lead to long term emotional and behavioural problems. Children who have to deal with crack cocaine withdrawal may have trouble recovering from that trauma.

There are a lot of barriers that your child may have to face, besides the physical health problems they are already risking. 

If you are using crack cocaine while pregnant, there is a high likelihood that you need help for serious addiction. 

If you do not get that help as soon as possible, your child may have to deal with the adverse effects of your drug use for a long time. They will also run the risk of becoming a drug addict themselves. 

Children need to see healthy behaviour modelled by their parents. If you are unable to recover from your crack cocaine addiction, your child will not be able to see you as a role model while they grow up. 

Furthermore, your addiction may keep you from being financially stable enough to properly care for your child. 

Addiction makes it very difficult to prioritize, and you may end up sacrificing your child’s quality of life to feed your desire for crack cocaine. 

Harm Reduction and Family Planning

Everyone deserves to have the family they want, including people who are addicted to crack. However, it is important to take your addiction into consideration when you are planning to start a family. 

Getting pregnant can be a great motivator for people who want to get sober. Sometimes, it can be easier to quit for someone else than to quit for you. 

However, some people are not able to resist the impulse to use when they are pregnant. 

If you are planning to get pregnant and recover from your crack cocaine addiction, you should make sure you have a plan in place to keep you from using while your baby develops in your womb. 

The best way to do this is to seek help from both professionals and your loved ones. 

With the help of addiction counsellors, you can make a plan that you can turn to when you feel the urge to use crack. Your loved ones should also keep a close eye on you to make sure that you are sticking to this plan. 

It isn’t easy to recover from a crack cocaine addiction, but it is possible. Let your unborn child be your motivation to finally take control of your life.

I Did Drugs While Pregnant: Now What?

If you have already used crack cocaine while pregnant, it isn’t too late to minimize the harm you do to your unborn baby. You should seek professional help immediately so you can detox from crack cocaine and avoid further use.

The less crack cocaine you use while pregnant, the better. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to seek help as soon as you use the drug. 

You may not have known you were pregnant the last time you used crack cocaine. Now that you know about your pregnancy, it is your responsibility to make sure you do not use crack again. 

With the right resources, recovery is not only achievable; it is closer than you might think. 

Don’t Let Crack Addiction Harm Your Baby

You now have the answers to some key questions about crack addiction and pregnancy, such as: how long does crack stay in an unborn baby? What are the effects of crack exposure on a newborn baby? 

Now that you know the truth about crack exposure and childhood development, it is time to take your recovery into your own hands.

If you are pregnant and using crack cocaine, contact a treatment centre. Help is only one click away. 




PubMed Abstract https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7944901/

Jama Network Article https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/486109

NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180095/