November 28, 2023

Cocaine and Pregnancy: How Cocaine Abuse Affects Babies of Pregnant Women

cocaine pregnancy

A woman distressed, symbolizing the dangers of cocaine and pregnancy

A pregnant woman doing cocaine can be damaging to both the mother and the unborn baby.

Cocaine should not be used at any stage of pregnancy, as ingesting cocaine when pregnant can cause harm to the unborn child. 

If you’re struggling with addiction to cocaine in pregnancy, it’s important to reach out for help as soon as possible to maintain the safety of your child. 

What Happens When a Pregnant Woman Uses Cocaine?

If a pregnant woman uses cocaine, this can be damaging to both mother and baby. Cocaine will cross the placenta, exposing the baby to this substance in utero. Additionally, it takes longer for a baby to process cocaine from the system.

Any fetal exposure to cocaine carries many serious health risks, including premature birth and FASDs (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders). FASDs can trigger adverse physical outcomes and problems with learning and behavior. These issues can persist throughout adolescence.

What Are the Effects of Cocaine on Pregnant Women?

Cocaine an illicit stimulant narcotic classified as schedule II controlled substance. Like all drugs in this class, cocaine has some medical utility, but it also has a strong potential for abuse and addiction. 

According to NSDUH 2020, 1.25 million U.S. adults were addicted to cocaine in 2020. Of women with cocaine addictions, the majority are of childbearing age. Research suggests that 5% of pregnant women report using an addictive substance like cocaine.

This study shows that there are roughly 750,000 pregnancies each year associated with prenatal cocaine exposure.

The health of a pregnant woman can impact the health of the unborn child. The maternal abuse of cocaine is associated with these negative outcomes: 

      • Improper nutrition

      • Poor pre-natal care

      • Financial stress and poverty

    Cocaine use by pregnant women is associated with these health complications for the mother: 

        • High blood pressure levels

        • Cardiovascular issues

        • Migraines

        • Seizure

      The effects of cocaine use by pregnant women also bring about many potential problems for unborn babies.

      How Does Cocaine Abuse During Pregnancy Affect Babies?

      In addition to FASDs, cocaine abuse during pregnancy can trigger the following serious complications:

          • Low birth weights

          • Premature births

          • Miscarriage

          • Placental absorption

          • Additional complications

        Low birth weights

        NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that low birth weights of less than 5 pounds 8 ounces is one of the primary risks associated with prenatal cocaine use.

        While some babies born underweight can be healthy, others experience serious problems, including:

            • Chronic infections

            • Problems gaining weight

            • Eating problems

          In some cases, medical intervention may be required. 

          Premature births

          If a mother uses cocaine during pregnancy, this heightens the chance of premature birth. This means the baby is delivered before term at 37 weeks.

          When a baby is born pre-term, this raises the risk of severe health complications. After being born, babies exposed to cocaine may encounter problems in the following areas: 

              • Cognition

              • Vision

              • Cardiovascular system

              • Developmental issues

              • Intellectual disabilities


            Any prenatal abuse of cocaine will increase the chance that a woman miscarries a baby

            If you miscarry a baby after using cocaine during pregnancy, it is still possible to enjoy a healthy subsequent pregnancy.

            Placental absorption

            This complication can lead to the mother and baby dying without immediate medical intervention.

            The placenta normally forms on the upper portion of the uterus, remaining in place until the baby is born. If the placenta detaches before the baby is born, this can starve the baby of oxygen and nutrients while simultaneously triggering profuse bleeding in the mother.

            Additional complications

            Cocaine abuse during pregnancy increases the likelihood of the following complications:

                • Intracranial hemorrhage

                • Circulatory problems

                • Compromised oxygen delivery

                • Cardiovascular disorders

                • Neurological issues

                • Neurodevelopmental problems

                • Polydactyly (abnormal number of digits).

                • Cleft palate

                • Limb defects

                • Swelling of kidneys

                • Gastroschisis

              Is the Damage Caused by Cocaine Use During Pregnancy Reversible?

              In most cases, babies born to women with stimulant use disorder (cocaine addiction) are premature. This causes the following issues: 

                  • Small head circumference

                  • Shorter length

                  • Underweight at birth

                According to WHO (World Health Organization), preterm babies have a greater chance of developing learning disabilities, auditory complications, and visual problems.

                Cocaine can also directly harm the fetus, leading to complications like heart defects and cleft palates. With the damage inflicted by cocaine, baby development can be impeded and result in 

                Although some effects of prenatal cocaine use may not cause long-term damage, adverse outcomes like smaller head circumference, learning difficulties, and physical defects are irreversible. 

                In the case of miscarriage and stillbirth, the damage is deadly. 

                What Is the Long-Term Prognosis for Babies Exposed to Cocaine In Utero?

                Prenatal cocaine misuse can lead to the following long-term problems for babies:

                    • CHDs (congenital heart diseases

                    • Cleft palate

                    • Limb reduction defects

                    • Neurodevelopmental problems

                    • ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder)

                    • Impaired functioning during adolescence

                    • Behavior problems

                    • Language development problems

                    • Memory issues

                    • Impaired executive function

                  Research also illustrates that teens who were exposed to cocaine in utero were: 

                      • More likely to develop a substance use disorder.

                      • Twice as likely to use marijuana and tobacco.

                      • More likely to drink alcohol.

                      • Prone to aggressive outbursts.

                    What Is the Best Treatment to Minimize the Damage Caused by Prenatal Cocaine Abuse?

                    If you have been using cocaine during pregnancy, it is imperative to seek medical care for substance abuse. Early intervention can make a significant difference to the life of your unborn baby.

                    Although there are no pharmacological treatments for cocaine addiction, inpatient or outpatient rehab programs allow you to address the psychological aspect of stimulant use. 

                    Through psychotherapy and motivational therapies, you can identify what triggers you to use cocaine. A therapist will help you to develop healthy coping mechanisms so you can avoid poor behaviors and deal with life’s everyday stressors head-on. 

                    We can help you with treatment for cocaine addiction at an intensity to suit your needs and schedule here at Gratitude Lodge.

                    image of woman representing treatment for cocaine when pregnant

                    Cocaine Addiction Treatment at Gratitude Lodge

                    Beginning treatment for cocaine addiction is an important and often life-changing decision. At Gratitude Lodge, we provide expert care and guidance as you embark on your journey to recovery. 

                    Studies show that most cocaine addictions respond favorably to behavioral interventions targeted to treat substance use disorders, and we utilize the most recent SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) recommendations for cocaine treatment protocols including:

                    • Psychotherapies
                    • Contingency management
                    • Community reinforcement
                    • & Motivational interviewing


                    At Gratitude Lodge, we offer these interventions and more at our premier rehabs located in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and San Diego, CA. 

                    Our luxury rehabs near the beach offer a safe, medically supervised detox at our inclusive and pet-friendly treatment centers. Our cocaine detox program typically lasts only about 7 days. 

                    However, individuals who are committed to long-term recovery typically need long-term care. We partner with several hand-selected treatment centers in the local area that can provide you with outpatient care after detox. This treatment is typically covered by most PPO insurance, and can significantly reduce chances of relapse, and give you a sober community to plug in to for support after treatment. 

                    During detox and outpatient care, you will have access to the following evidence-based and highly effective treatments:

                    • Psychotherapy
                    • Individual counseling
                    • Group therapy
                    • Family therapy
                    • Holistic therapy
                    • 12-step immersion program


                    Don’t let the stigma of prenatal substance abuse stop you from getting the help you need. Take action before you cause problems for your unborn baby. For clinical and emotional care delivered without judgment, reach out to admissions by calling 800-994-2184.

                    Cocaine Abuse While Pregnant FAQs

                    This study of 30 mothers and infants where the mothers had histories of pre-natal cocaine use tested for cocaine in the urine and the amniotic fluid. The participants who had used cocaine in the three weeks before delivery tested positive. This shows that cocaine effects on pregnant woman can be detectable for almost a month after use.

                    If you use cocaine while pregnant, it can have severe consequences for both you and your baby. Cocaine use during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, developmental issues, and can lead to long-term health problems for the child, including learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

                    Yes, using cocaine during pregnancy can cause significant problems. It increases the risk of complications such as miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, and can lead to long-term developmental and health issues for the baby.

                    Want to learn more?

                    Recent Articles

                    Begin your journey
                    to recovery.

                    Get evidence-based treatment in a peaceful location, with a
                    team of dedicated, expert staff. 
                    Share on Facebook
                    Share on Twitter
                    Share on Linkedin
                    Share on Email
                    Joe Gilmore

                    Joseph Gilmore

                    Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
                    Jenni Bussi

                    Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

                    Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

                    Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

                    Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

                    Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

                    Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
                    an image of clients representing drug detox california

                    Holistic Therapy

                    Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
                    Gratitude Lodge clients laughing, representing drug detox california


                    An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
                    woman at beach representing drug detox in california

                    Dual Diagnosis

                    Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
                    an image of a client and therapist at Gratitude Lodge's Long Beach addiction treatment center

                    Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

                    Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
                    an image of clients outside after getting help at Gratitude Lodge's rehab in Long Beach, California

                    Sober Living

                    Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
                    an image of clients at Gratitude Lodge's drug rehab program

                    Outpatient Treatment

                    Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
                    An image of clients going through inpatient substance abuse treatment


                    Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
                    an image of clients at clients at Gratitude Lodge's representing fear in recovery

                    Drug & Alcohol Detox

                    A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.

                    Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.