Prenatal substance abuse continues to be a problem worldwide. Substance use during pregnancy can adversely affect a growing fetus. Early in pregnancy, fetal malformations may occur while, later in pregnancy, it is the developing fetal brain that is more vulnerable to injury. There is a growing body of research describing the adverse effects of substance use on fetal development, including malformations, abnormal brain development and growth retardation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) technical report, "Prenatal Substance Abuse: Short- and Long-term Effects on the Exposed Fetus," in the March 2013 Pediatrics (published online Feb. 25), provides information for the most common substances involved in fetal exposure: nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates, cocaine and methamphetamines. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/3/e1009
Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than nonsmokers to have an ectopic pregnancy, vaginal bleeding, placental abruption, placenta previa or stillbirth. Babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to be of low birthweight or born prematurely, increasing their risk of serious health problems.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of birth defects, intellectual disabilities and other developmental disorders in newborns. We are just beginning to learn the impact of marijuana use in pregnancy.