The detrimental prenatal and postnatal effects of drugs and alcohol on infants are well-known. Women who continue to use drugs during pregnancy greatly increase the risk of giving birth to infants with serious birth defects, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and lifelong challenges for the child because of drug exposure in utero. If you can’t quit drugs before becoming pregnant, detoxing while pregnant can help avoid these issues. By knowing how to safely detox while pregnant, expectant mothers can protect the health of their babies.

Drug Abuse and Pregnancy Facts and Stats

According to the 2013 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.4% of pregnant women reported current illicit drug use. The majority of pregnant women who use illegal substances during pregnancy use legal drugs too. These can also have negative repercussions on unborn babies. The actual number of children who have been exposed to drugs in utero is likely much greater than statistics indicate. Many women don’t report pregnant drug use because there’s a stigma associated with it. And they fear losing their babies to child protective services.

A Vanderbilt study showed that the problem of drug use in pregnant women is worsening in the U.S. A drug-dependent baby is born every 25 minutes at a cost of $1.5 billion in additional healthcare. Other research shows that a baby is born dependent on opiates every 30 minutes.

Women are at the highest risk of developing a substance use disorder during their reproductive years (ages 18 to 44), especially between the ages of 18 to 29.6.

According to one study, 78% of women with marijuana use and 73% of women with cocaine use were able to get sober during pregnancy. This means that pregnant women with substance abuse problems stand a good chance of recovery, so long as they seek out effective treatment.

More pregnant women seek drug addiction treatment for opioid abuse than any other substance. Research indicates other drugs for which pregnant women seek treatment include:

Stigma is one reason many pregnant women don’t get help for their substance abuse. But there shouldn’t be any shame involved. By seeking out medical detox while pregnant, expectant mothers will be able to protect both their own health and that of their child.

The Dangers of Drug Use During Pregnancy to the Mother and Baby

If you’re abusing drugs while pregnant, you put the health of both you and your baby at risk. For a mother, the risks of substance abuse include:

  • Drug addiction
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Poor decision-making
  • Risk of injury
  • Hormonal changes
  • Mental health issues

For your baby, your substance abuse can lead to NAS. This means your newborn experiences drug withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms develop immediately after birth or a few weeks following birth. These symptoms include:

  • Excessive or high-pitched crying
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Seizures
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sleep problems
  • Slow weight gain
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Blotchy skin-coloring
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal sucking reflex

Some drugs can damage the long-term health of your baby. Sometimes a pregnant woman’s drug use can be fatal for the infant. Other risks include:

  • Birth defects
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Small head circumference

Drug Detoxing While Pregnant: Is It Possible?

As an expectant mother, weaning yourself and your baby off drugs can be difficult. But with the right treatment and drug rehab team, it is possible to safely detox while pregnant. It must be done under the care of a multidisciplinary team with specialized skills. This is due to the inherent risks to both mother and child.

How Drug Detoxing During Pregnancy Works

Most physicians recommend a gradual tapering of illegal drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol. This is paired with a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

Drug detoxing while pregnant works differently depending on the drug in question.


Treatments specifically focused on detoxing from marijuana while pregnant are lacking. The current recommendation for lowering the use of marijuana in pregnant women includes routine screenings to increase early identification of marijuana use and encourage abstinence.


Currently, there are no evidence-based pharmacological treatments for prenatal cocaine use. But a gradual tapering off and medical detox is likely to be helpful.


Treatments for other stimulants, such as methamphetamine, are also limited. Recent research indicates reinforcement-based therapy (RBT) combined with a women-focused intervention among pregnant methamphetamine users has the potential to reduce meth use over time. But more extensive research is needed to determine how effective it is.


The Maternal Opioid Treatment: Human Experimental Research (MOTHER) trial was undertaken to understand the complex issues involved in treating opioid-dependent pregnant women. This encompassed the safety and impact of medications used for detox in pregnant women and fetuses. The trial included 131 pregnant women who were addicted to opioids including heroin or prescription pain medication, with low rates of other illicit drug use. Evidence from the MOTHER study indicated that compared to methadone, buprenorphine was acceptable for managing opioid dependence during pregnancy. While there were no statistical differences in the maternal outcome between buprenorphine and methadone, buprenorphine resulted in less severe cases of NAS.

How Drug Detox Works When You’re Pregnant

During medical detox at a treatment facility, you’ll be invited in for a consultation to discuss your struggles with substance abuse in more depth. Then the addiction experts will create a plan to best suit your needs and help aid your long-term recovery. Medical detox also involves:

  • Medications, if needed, to ease withdrawal symptoms while being safe for the fetus
  • Round-the-clock care
  • Staying in a comfortable, home-like setting

Following your medical detox, a drug rehab team will devise an addiction treatment plan for you. Treatments you may receive include:

  • Psychiatric treatment for any underlying mental health conditions
  • Family therapy
  • Alternative treatments, such as yoga, meditation, fitness, and arts and music therapy
  • Aftercare program, including treatments like individual counselling, 12-step programs and support groups

The Benefits of Stopping Drug Use Before Your Baby Is Born

Quitting drugs before you get pregnant is ideal. This gives you the best chance of protecting the health of your baby. But detoxing while pregnant will still benefit the baby by helping it to be a healthy weight and size when it’s born and to develop without complications. Sobriety during pregnancy can also help you stay emotionally stable during a time that’s tough on your body and mind. For an expectant mother, risking the health of her infant can be highly distressing. Avoiding these issues will benefit your emotional well-being in the long run.

If you are pregnant—or somebody close to you is—and struggling with substance abuse, call us today at 18448767680 for a confidential assessment. Our addiction experts can help you find a detox center that meets your needs, then work with you as you move into an addiction treatment program that’s right for you.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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