Impact of Drugs on the Fetus
Drugs play a central role in improving human health and promoting well being. However, these have to be safe, efficient, and used rationally to produce the desired effect. Others are used for pleasure, and these are dangerous to anyone since they can be addictive. Women are advised not to take any drug during pregnancy unless it is necessary. This is because the fetus is connected to the mother through the placenta and umbilical cord (Ockerman). This takes everything the mother brings to the baby. A fetus is susceptible to the drugs and may not effectively eliminate them. The brain and organs are also growing fast. The precise nature of fetal growth means that any interference on the brain’s size or effectiveness can cause a permanent impact on the child. This article will Examine the effect of drug use during pregnancy on the development of the fetus. These will include the short-term that are witness after birth and long-term that arise as the child develops.
Short-Term Developmental Impact
The first impact of drug exposure is fetal growth. Children that were exposed to drugs are at risk of fetal growth restriction and low birth weight. Fetal growth restriction denotes a state where the fetus is born smaller as it ought to be due to failing to grow at an average rate while in the uterus. This subject the fetus to specific health concerns during pregnancy, birth, and after delivery. A typical risk concern is low birth weight, where the baby seems smaller compared to other infants of normal weight. The head of a baby’s body with low weight looks massive, while the rest of the body appears small (Ockerman). Such a baby is delivered very thin with less fat, and the blood vain can be easily noted. Babies born with fetal growth restrictions or low birth weight are at risk of numerous health problems and may need to stay in the hospital for a longer time. They may also require special care in the NICU.
Congenital anomalies denote functional or structural abnormalities, which ensue during intrauterine life. These can be diagnosed prenatally, during delivery, or in infancy, such as hearing. Tribble points out that once the fetus comes in contact with potent tera-togenic drugs, they are at risk of developing mental and physical impairments. This can be breathing challenges, brain damage, trouble feeding, poor muscle control, small head size, and learning difficulties (Egan). If the baby survives, there is an increased chance that they will suffer from social, physical, and cognitive challenges, which can last throughout their life and be very disruptive. It is also worth noting that although exposure to substances such as specific prescription medication, alcohol, and illegal street drugs may result in the advancement of different types of congenital disabilities, some are more common than others. However, most are alcohol-related since alcohol is the most consumed substance and is termed as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These affect behavioral, emotional, and learning abilities and appearances, such as small eye-opening and thin upper lip.
Another long-term impact is neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when an infant is exposed to drugs in the womb before birth. Pregnant mothers that become addicted to drugs also cause the child to be addicted as well. After birth, the baby is cut off from the drug, and they start to experience adverse impact since they had developed a reliance on the medication. The illness that follows from failing to access the drug is “withdrawal.” Symptoms of withdrawal depicted by the newborn can include fever, vomiting, blotchy skin, sleep problems, too much crying, tremors, slow development, and fussiness (Egan). Substances commonly associated with withdrawal include prescription drugs and illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. The withdrawal symptoms usually commence ten days follow the birth and may vary from mild to severe to the extent of causing seizures. Treatment depends on the drugs used and the severity of the symptoms.
Neurobehavioral disorders entail many behavioral impairments linked to brain diseases, permanent injuries, and damage. One of the most specific neurobehavioral disorders among children is ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is another complex neurobehavioral disorder linked to impairment in social interactions, behavioral challenges, and communication deficits. TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is another disorder linked to neurobehavioral changes such as increased impulsivity, social inhibition, increased agitation, and dysregulated emotional responses. Newborn neurobehavioral disorder abnormalities such as impaired orientation and autonomic regulation and muscle tone abnormalities have been noted among prenatal nicotine exposures. Low arousal levels and wretched habitation, along with motor abnormalities, have also been identified among women who heavily used alcohol during pregnancy.
Long term Developmental Impacts
Infants exposed to drugs have shown long-term behavioral impact extending from infancy to adulthood. For instance, attention problems and impulsivity have been noted among children exposed to nicotine. Hyperactive and negative externalizing behavior have also been linked to drug exposure while in the womb. For instance, hyperactive entails acting abnormally or unusually active and has been identified as a symptom of an underlying physical or mental health condition. It is challenging to manage for people around a hyperactive person. ADHD is one of the conditions associated with hyperactivity. A short attention span is a behavioral impact where a child has trouble focusing on one thing at a time without being distracted (Tribble). These children are also predisposed to drug use and tend to take up these behaviors when they mature. There is also a risk of early experimentation and abuse. Many of these end up hospitalized or in rehab as the problem cause them not to live a fulfilling life. Children are also likely to experience a significant adaptive behavior problem that is also sustained until adulthood. Behavior identified include disruptive school experiences, substance abuse, delinquent and criminal behavior.
There is a link between early exposure to drugs and cognitive/executive functioning impairment. The connection between exposure and impaired cognition is also as strong as the link with behavioral concerns. Cognitive impairment entails any condition that substantially impacts cognitive function to a point where it can be impossible to function without assistance. For instance, these children present abnormalities in learning and memory and slightly lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores that persist in adulthood. A typical short-term impact is the loss of memory, while long-term impact includes lack of emotional stability and control over their actions. Executive functions encompass a set of mental skills, including flexible thinking, self-control, and working memory (Tribble). Cognitive impairment often leads to poor executive functioning. Egan points out that prenatal alcohol exposure is linked to poor memory and executive functioning. These children end up performing poorer in their academics and other aspects of their lives as they grow. For instance, poor performance on spelling and arithmetic tasks is a common trait for children exposed to drugs while as infants.
A child’s growth is also likely to be impacted that hinder the smooth transition from childhood to adulthood. The effect on growth can be attributable to a disproportionate height for weight since these kids are likely to be obese, characterized by a higher BMI, increased skinfold thickness, and Ponderal index. It is also important to note that poor growth is one of the hallmarks of fetal alcohol syndrome. The children tend to experience poor language development. Drugs introduced during fetus growth interfere with unfolding growth patterns in all these periods, affecting the transition between them. For instance, alcohol exposure interferes with the development and use of language, leading to long-term social interaction concerns.
This article shows that although a pregnant woman can take drugs and not experience any lasting impact, it is not always the same as the fetus. Drug-using women also give birth to drug children who grow with a host of developmental challenges. Using any drug – legal or illegal – during pregnancy directly impacts the fetus’s growth. The challenges can be both short-term and long-term. Short-term impacts are notable after birth and can include low birth weight and congenital disability. When it comes long term impact, these children can experience memory and attentiveness problems. This denies these children the ability to live a normal life like other kids. Doctors recommend adhering to a healthy diet not only for the mother’s health but also for the child.
Egan, Jennifer. “Children of the Opioid Epidemic (Published 2018)”. Nytimes.Com, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/magazine/children-of-the-opioid-epidemic.html. Accessed 25 Feb 2021.
Ockerman, Emma. “Pregnant Women Addicted To Opioids Face Tough Choices, Fear Treatment Can Lead To Separation And Harm”. The Washington Post, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/pregnant-women-addicted-to-opioids-face-tough-choices-fear-treatment-can-lead-to-separation-and-harm/2017/08/13/8844e51a-6d78-11e7-b9e2-2056e768a7e5_story.html. Accessed 25 Feb 2021.
Tribble, Sarah Jane. “For The Babies of the Opioid Crisis, The Best Care May Be Mom’S Recovery”. The Washington Post, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/for-the-babies-of-the-opioid-crisis-the-best-care-may-be-moms-recovery/2018/05/10/a6cdd248-5432-11e8-a6d4-ca1d035642ce_story.html. Accessed 25 Feb 2021.