Effect of Substance Abuse on Premature Birth

Help is available for pregnant women struggling with substance abuse problems.

The effect of substance abuse on premature birth should be an important consideration for any woman who is either pregnant or thinking about trying to conceive.

Complications Associated with Premature Birth

Although most babies are born about 40 weeks after the first day of their mother's last menstrual period, almost one in eight babies is born too early. A premature birth is defined as a birth taking place more than three weeks before the baby's anticipated due date.

Unfortunately, the technological advances that have improved many aspects of our lives have done little to slow the rate of premature birth. In fact, statistics indicate that the number of women delivering premature babies in the United States has actually increased 30 percent in the last 20 years.

Babies born as early as 23 weeks can survive, but often suffer serious medical complications. Cerebral palsy, seizures, vision problems, intestinal problems, learning disabilities, and developmental delays are fairly common among premature babies. Premature babies are also at an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The Effect of Substance Abuse on Premature Birth

As scientists continue to investigate reasons for the increase in preterm delivery, disturbing facts have emerged regarding the effect of substance abuse on premature birth. Women who drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or abuse illegal drugs face a dramatic increase in the risk of preterm delivery.

Drinking Alcohol

Although most women are well aware that drinking during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, alcohol is also considered one of the leading known causes of premature birth. This may be because alcohol interferes with the nutritional process by limiting the digestion and storage of vital nutrients that a baby needs to develop properly.

For additional information about how alcohol can affect premature birth, check out the following resources:

Smoking Cigarettes

Research indicates that 11 percent of women in the United States smoke during pregnancy. However, smoking is also thought to be a cause of 5 percent of all premature births. Smoking cigarettes appears to double a woman's risk of developing the placental problems that can contribute to premature birth. Smoking during pregnancy may also lead to a premature rupture of the membranes, a condition that almost always results in a preterm delivery.

For additional information about how smoking cigarettes can affect premature birth, check out the following resources:

Abusing Illegal Drugs

Statistics indicate that approximately 4 percent of all pregnant women in the United States abuse illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamines. Although it is commonly believed that illicit drug use is linked to an increase in premature birth, exact statistics are difficult to find since the majority of women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy also drink alcohol and/or smoke cigarettes.

For additional information about how illegal drug use can affect premature birth, check out the following resources:

Helping to Prevent Premature Birth

Although not all premature births are preventable, getting help for your addiction can greatly reduce your risk of preterm delivery. Even if you feel embarrassed, don't be afraid to ask for help from your healthcare provider. He/she is well aware of the effect of substance abuse on premature birth and will be able to direct you to resources available for pregnant woman who want to deliver healthy babies.

Other tips for helping to reduce the risk of premature birth include:

  • Seek early prenatal care. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as you discover you are pregnant.
  • Manage chronic medical conditions. If you suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, or similar chronic illnesses, you'll need regular care to help prevent premature birth.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Folic acid, calcium, and iron are essential for any pregnant woman. Make an effort to eat balanced meals to make sure you're getting the nutrition you and your baby need.
  • Limit stress. It's not possible to completely eliminate stressful situations from your life, but you shouldn't hesitate to scale back your schedule in order to avoid unnecessary aggravation.
  • Ask your doctor if sexual activity is safe. Although sex is not risky during a normal pregnancy, it should be avoided if you are experiencing vaginal bleeding or problems with the placenta.

Additional LoveToKnow Resources

If you are struggling to control an addiction, LoveToKnow Recovery has information about available treatment options.

Effect of Substance Abuse on Premature Birth