Worried pregnant woman sitting on a couch in the living room at home

What Happens if you Take Crack Cocaine When Pregnant

Using crack cocaine during pregnancy can impact the health of unborn children in numerous ways.

Maternal cocaine use during pregnancy has the potential to directly and permanently damage the developing central nervous system of a fetus.

This can result in later behavioural issues and learning disabilities. Secondly, the associated health and lifestyle characteristics of the mother who uses cocaine, such as poor nutrition, other drug use, and inadequate prenatal care, also negatively affect fetal development. 

For the sake of both you and your unborn child, it is essential to ensure you’re getting the facts. 

Table of contents

Effects of crack cocaine on babies

Risk of miscarriage

How long does cocaine stay in a baby’s system?

I took crack when pregnant: what now?

Effects of Crack Cocaine on Fetal Development

Crack cocaine and pregnancy should never mix. Crack’s effects on your unborn baby depend on a few factors: how often you use it and how far into the pregnancy you are.

In terms of fetal effects, animal studies indicate that cocaine readily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal circulation. Cocaine also induces constriction of uterine blood vessels, producing acidosis and possible asphyxia, which is further complicated by the contraction of the uterus.

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 developing your unborn baby’s brain. At 35 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s brain is only about two-thirds the size 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 hazardous. 

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 proper 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 to let your unborn baby detox.

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

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. 

It’s highly likely that pregnant crack cocaine users will need help for severe 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 care for your child properly. 

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

Scientific research

Studies conducted on animal models have shown that when fetuses are exposed to cocaine, it can lead to cognitive impairments in terms of memory and learning abilities.

Cocaine acts to prevent reuptake of catecholamines presynaptically, resulting in an increased level of these neurotransmitters. Therefore, alterations in catecholamine levels during fetal gestation may affect the maturation of fetal neurotransmitter systems.

Maternal cocaine use also results in the rise of maternal blood pressure, resulting in the decrease of uterine and placental blood flow. As the baby resides in the uterus and the placenta provides the fetus with oxygen and nutrients, this is why cocaine use during pregnancy is not advised.

Although it is challenging to isolate the effects of drugs on human infants from other factors related to a drug-abusing lifestyle, research indicates that infants who have been exposed to cocaine while still in the womb experience stunted growth, delays in sensory-motor development, difficulties in focusing attention, and reduced responsiveness to social stimuli.


  • In experiments on animals, exposure to cocaine during fetal development leads to alterations at the cellular and genetic level that do not cause obvious heart issues but do increase the likelihood of developing heart disease later in life.
  • The discovery that cocaine exposure during pregnancy causes epigenetic changes explains why there are long-term effects on offspring despite the absence or limited presence of noticeable heart problems.
  • Although there is no direct proof of long-term programming in humans, research on newborn babies has demonstrated that prenatal exposure to cocaine leads to changes in the heart and the autonomic nervous system.
  • The results observed in newborn humans and the lasting impacts observed in animals strongly indicate that exposure to cocaine in the womb can cause heart-related issues in adulthood and is likely to be a significant factor in the risk of illness and death due to reduced blood flow to the heart.
  • These findings align with recent studies in humans and animals, which have shown a connection between a hostile environment during pregnancy and a higher likelihood of health issues, such as heart disease, in the later stages of adulthood.

Babies dependent on cocaine

Babies can be 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 unbearable pain of withdrawal.

When a child is kept in the hospital to go through crack cocaine withdrawal, they are unable to bond with their mothers properly. 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 traumatises them.

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

I took crack cocaine whilst pregnant: now what?

If you have already used crack cocaine while pregnant, it isn’t too late to minimise 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.

If you took a drug without realising you were pregnant on a one-off occasion, try not to worry – it’s unlikely to have affected your baby.

But if illegal drugs are part of your life, getting help can improve the outlook for you and your baby.

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. 

Overcoming crack cocaine addiction during pregnancy

What you can do:

  • Try to quit drugs as early as possible in your pregnancy
  • Discuss your drug use with your midwife or doctor
  • Contact your local addiction services
  • Attend local support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous
  • Seek support from someone close to you who does not take drugs

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

Getting pregnant can be an excellent motivator for people who want to get sober. Sometimes, quitting for someone else can be easier than stopping 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. 

With the help of local services, you can make a plan that you can turn to when you feel the urge to use crack. Your loved ones should also watch you closely to ensure 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 take control of your life finally.

Don’t Let Crack Addiction Harm Your Baby

You now have the answers to some critical 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.