Prenatal drug abuse is a very tragic, yet preventable issue in our society. For a pregnant woman, drug abuse is doubly dangerous. Drugs may harm her own health, interfering with her ability to support the pregnancy. Also, some drugs can directly impair prenatal development. All illegal drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, pose dangers to a pregnant woman. Legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, are also dangerous, and even medical drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, can be harmful.
For her own health and the health of the child, a woman should avoid all of them as much as possible from the time she first plans to become pregnant or learns that she is pregnant. A mother who uses drugs risks her life and her baby’s. When a pregnant woman uses drugs, she and her unborn child face serious health problems. During pregnancy, the drugs used by the mother can enter directly into the baby’s bloodstream. The most serious effects on the baby can be HIV infection, prematurity, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, small head size, stunted growth, poor motor skills, and behavior problems.
A mother’s continuing drug use puts her children at risk for neglect, physical abuse, and malnutrition. It may be difficult for some pregnant women who are addicted to drugs to just impede their abuse. Many women who use drugs have had troubled lives. Studies have found that at least 70 percent of women drug users have been sexually abused by the age of sixteen. Most of these women had at least one parent who abused alcohol or drugs (Williams, 2006).
The article, “Four percent of pregnant women used illicit drugs in past month”, was based on reports on the use of illegal drugs by pregnant women in the month of May 2005 according to a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the United States. It describes the prevalence of substance abuse among pregnant women, reasons behind the higher prevalence of illicit drug use among younger pregnant women, and the association of substance use during pregnancy with mental, physical and psychological problems in infants and children.
This article was mostly based on shocking statistics, such as reports showing that “over 18% of pregnant women are smokers and continue to smoke throughout their pregnancy” (Alcoholism ; Drug Abuse Weekly, 2005). Cocaine abuse during pregnancy not only harms the mother, but also may cause problems with the child’s gross and fine motor skills. Cocaine also affects a child’s attention, alertness, and IQ.
At 3 years, the exposed children scored lower on an intelligence test than did unexposed children, were more restless, had shorter attention spans and less focused attention, and made more attempts to distract the examiner than did children who were not exposed to cocaine before birth” (Zickler, 1999). The affects of prenatal cocaine abuse in children are primarily associated with their attention patterns (Gendle, 2004). Studies using cocaine-exposed animals showed the negative affects of cocaine on attention skills.
The cocaine-exposed animals were more easily distracted than the healthy animals, and they also learned slower (Gendle, 2004). Even low doses of cocaine used prenatally proved to cause a significant problem with the ability to endure distractions. Postnatal cocaine abuse is also very dangerous because of the negative and ineffective parenting that can take place because of the mother being under the constant influence of the drug. Since the statistics are so surprising, it may be a wake-up call for women abusing drugs. Drug use has so many negative effects, as does tobacco and alcohol use.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the leading known cause of mental retardation (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc 2000). Proper prenatal care is crucial to the child’s development because drugs affect both hemispheres in the brain, which concentrate on verbal competencies, recognition of patterns, and many more elements. However, drug abuse during pregnancy affects both the physical and mental development of newborns. Drugs also affect motor development, which has a direct relationship with reflexes.
Reflexes are the unlearned, organized, voluntary responses that occur automatically in the presence of certain stimuli. A baby needs to develop both their gross and fine motor skills, or else they won’t be able to crawl, walk, or pick up anything. By researching this topic, I have learned the consequences for prenatal drug abuse, and also some startling statistics. Out of all the prenatal drug abusing women, 70% of these women are African American (Roberts, 1991). In addition, Black women are more likely to be denied custody of their children because they are perceived by child-welfare agencies to be “unfit mothers”.
D. E. Roberts, the author of “Mother as martyr – poor Afro-American women bearing crack-addicted babies need better prenatal care, not prosecution for drug abuse ” also acknowledged that since poor African American women are in closer contact with government agencies and give birth in public hospitals, their drug use is more likely to be detected. “They are also more likely to be reported to government authorities because of discriminatory hospital screening practices and the stereotyped assumptions of health-care professionals” (Roberts, 1991).
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