Unborn Child

The adult brain exists in a well-protected stable environment, which is due, in part, to a semi-permeable membrane that separates circulating blood from the brain. This membrane is referred to as the Blood–Brain-Barrier (BBB). It helps to protect the brain and keep it isolated from harmful toxins.

Scientific studies show that heroin rapidly crosses the placenta. So we know it enters the unborn child’s body. Whether it enters the brain or not is another story. But there is widespread belief among physicians, scientists, and neurotoxicologists that the Blood-Brain-Barrier in the embryo, fetus, and newborn is immature, which implies that it’s not formed at all, poorly formed, or leaky. The unborn child’s developing brain is therefore vulnerable to drugs like heroin, including other substances that dealers may mix into the heroin, and any number of bacteria that may inadvertently get into heroin because of unsanitary manufacturing and/or storage. All of which may contribute to brain damage.

How Heroin Affects Pregnant Mothers

Heroin addicts tend to have decreased health and poor nutrition, but the problem is substantially worse for pregnant heroin addicts. If a pregnant mother shares a needle, she puts herself and her baby at risk of acquiring blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis C. What’s more…she increases the risk of spontaneous abortion.

Using needles during pregnancy may prolong labor, which may increase the risk that the mother may need a C-section. Prolonged labor also adds risk to the baby, including less oxygen, irregular heartbeat and infections.


Effects On A Newborn

“Use during pregnancy causes various problems in the newborn. A neonatal withdrawal syndrome may occur in up to 85% of cases. Symptoms appear between 48 hours and 6 days after birth. They usually peak between 3 to 6 weeks then diminish progressively over as long as 6 months. They manifest as hyperactivity, tremor, myoclonus, hyperirritability, anorexia, poor weight gain, and scratching. Sweating, sneezing, mucous secretion, yawning, vomiting, diarrhea and hyperthermia may also be present. Convulsions appear in 5% of the children. Withdrawal syndrome in the mother during pregnancy can cause an increase in fetal catecholamine concentration, an increase in fetal movement, a relative oxygen lack, acute fetal distress and an increase in intrauterine death rate.” https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/


Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome

Neonatal withdrawal syndrome (NWS) occurs when heroin passes through the placenta to the fetus during pregnancy, causing the baby to become physically dependent along with the mother. Physical dependence symptoms include excessive crying, fever, irritability, seizures, slow weight gain, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, and possibly death.


Treating Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome

According to a recent study, treating heroin-addicted pregnant mothers with buprenorphine can reduce NWS symptoms in babies and shorten their hospital stays. A recent NIDA-supported clinical trial demonstrated that buprenorphine treatment of opioid-dependent mothers is safe for both the unborn child and the mother. Once born, these infants require less pharmacotherapy and shorter hospitalization as compared to babies born of mothers on methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).



Physicians typically warn women “who are” or “want to become” pregnant, not to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or take drugs, because these substances have been shown to harm the embryo. Substances that cause malformations of an embryo are called teratogens. Surprisingly, some teratogens can adversely affect the embryo even if the father uses them. But only if the father uses them before the pregnancy. The most potent male teratogens are alcohol, caffeine, lead and narcotics, such as heroin and methadone. The results may be spontaneous abortion, low birth weight babies, and abnormal behaviors.

heroin and menstruation