substance use during pregnancy

The Risks of Substance Use During Pregnancy

Substance use during pregnancy is a particularly high-risk concern. To ensure optimal health for you and your baby during pregnancy, you need to understand the reality of using opioids, marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol while pregnant.

Opioid Use During Pregnancy


The National Opioid Settlement has brought widespread public attention to the fact that addiction and abuse of opioids can come from prescriptions as well as illicit sources. If you are taking any narcotic medications, make sure you tell your doctor that you are pregnant and taking these medications, because there are many long-term studies outlining the severity of opioid use during pregnancy. The most common negative consequences are preterm birth, still birth, maternal mortality, and neonatal abstinence syndrome, which has increased by 500% between 2000 and 2013.

  • Preterm birth means that your baby might be born early and underweight. Preterm births are much more likely to be hospitalized because the baby’s lungs are not fully developed.
  • Still birth refers to when a baby dies inside the womb and is born with no signs of life
  • Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) refers to the death of a pregnant woman. The MMR from opioid use disorder increased from 11.2 to 48.5 per 100,000 live births between 1999 and 2017, a 9% relative increase due to the increased availability of prescription opioid use.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome occurs in newborns who were addicted to opioids during gestation and resembles withdrawal symptoms after they are born.




No amount of marijuana use in pregnancy has been proven to be safe during pregnancy.  The American Academy of Pediatrics lists a number of harmful side effects of marijuana during pregnancy, including a higher likelihood of the mother developing anemia, the higher likelihood of an infant being born with low birth rate, and a weakening of the placental barrier.[1] Every time a mother ingests marijuana, her baby is also ingesting it. This substance use during pregnancy is very serious, especially because long-term studies have demonstrated that children who are exposed to marijuana in the womb were noticeably less able to control their impulses or problem solve effectively. At ages three to four, the child may exhibit poor verbal, memory, and motor skills, as well as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.



Tobacco use in pregnancy is harmful. It increases the likelihood of many health concerns, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and birth defects of the mouth and lip. Smoking both during and after pregnancy also significantly increases the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Any substance containing nicotine, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and others is harmful for the pregnancy. This includes vaping. Nicotine can damage a developing baby’s brain and lungs.



Any type of alcohol is harmful to ingest during pregnancy. Alcohol use can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. Usage leads to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).  The list of potential damaging side effects that alcohol can have on a developing baby during pregnancy is long.

Substance use during pregnancy


It is important to understand the risks associated with substance use during pregnancy. At Birth Choice, we understand the significance of prioritizing your health during your pregnancy. Our dedicated team is committed to supporting you throughout your pregnancy journey.

If you have concerns about your pregnancy due to substance use, take the proactive step and book an appointment with us today. We can talk to you about your options.

[1] Feinshtein V, Erez O, Ben-Zvi Z, et al. Cannabidiol enhances xenobiotic permeability through the human placental barrier by direct inhibition of breast cancer resistance protein: an ex vivo study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2013;209(6):573.e1–573.e15