Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 6/2/2021
Will My Baby Be Taken from Me at Birth for Drug Use?
If you’re experiencing addiction or drug use and are about to give birth, or even if you’re months away, it’s never a good feeling. Addicted women sometimes find themselves scared for their unborn baby while still unable to stop using. Currently, there are no states that mandatorily drug test infants upon birth. However, some states will drug test if certain red flags are present in the parents or if the newborn baby is exhibiting signs of withdrawal or distress that are unexplainable. Testing newborns for drugs at birth is very controversial. However, if signs of fetal drug exposure are present, or if the hospital decides to test your infant for drugs, your baby may be taken away. Keep in mind that this decision is based solely on the type of drug detected in the newborn’s system. If you’re asking yourself “will they take my baby away for drug use?”, you’re going to want to read the rest of this article to understand the current laws and best steps to take.
The Risks of Using While Pregnant
If you’re currently using while pregnant, especially if you’re using hard illicit drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, or methamphetamine, you must understand the dangers. It’s normal that you’re concerned about if they’re going to take your baby away for using drugs. If you understand the dangers, we hope that it will propel you towards making the decision to seek addiction treatment (no matter what path that may be) before your baby is born. Using drugs while pregnant can cause problems before and during pregnancy.
These problems include the following;
- Having difficulty getting pregnant or suffering from infertility
- Issues found with the placenta; the placenta grows in your uterus, which supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord
- Preterm labor is when the baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy
- Miscarriage, when the baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy
- A stillbirth occurs when the baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy
Taking drugs during pregnancy can cause the following complications;
- Premature birth means that the baby is born too early, typically before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- Low birth weight is when the baby is less than 5 pounds 8 ounces.
- Smaller than normal head size
- Congenital disabilities are health conditions that are present at birth. Defects can change the shape or function of one or multiple parts of the body and cause problems in the child’s overall health.
- Infections such as hepatitis C and HIV typically affect drug users who share needles, increasing their risk of contracting an infectious disease. In addition, it is possible that if the mother has these infections, she can pass them onto the baby during pregnancy or birth.
- Medical providers detect neonatal abstinence syndrome by a group of symptoms that a baby can suffer from if the mother used addictive drugs while pregnant. In short, the symptoms are the withdrawal signs that the newborn may exhibit when born.
Children that have mothers who used during pregnancy can also suffer from problems later in life, including;
- Learning problems
- Behavioral problems
- Slower than normal growth
- SIDS, also known as sudden infant death syndrome, is when the child passes away without explanation while sleeping
Drug Use While Pregnant Also Affects The Mother
Using illicit drugs during pregnancy doesn’t only put your unborn child at risk, but it also puts you at risk. Drug use while pregnant increases the mother’s and the child’s risk for many different things. It increases the mother’s risk for anemia, blood and heart infections, skin infections, hepatitis, and several other infectious diseases. If you’re using intravenous drugs, you put yourself at risk of developing heart infections, abscesses, and more. If you’re affected negatively, your unborn baby is also going to be affected negatively. It’s clear that this why medical professionals seek to protect mothers and newborn babies.
How different Drugs Affect the Unborn
When women use drugs in pregnancy, they go directly into the shared bloodstream between mother and unborn baby. So if the mother is dependent, there’s a high possibility that the unborn baby becomes dependent on the drugs the mother is using. However, different drugs have different effects and consequences on the unborn baby’s health.
Let’s go over a few of the most commonly used substances and their impact on the unborn.
Heroin, fentanyl, and other opiates can cause severe withdrawal in the baby. The magnitude of opiate withdrawal symptoms is dependent on the amount of drug the most is regularly consuming. Symptoms can last for weeks; these babies are also at a higher risk for apnea, where they stop breathing. However, if a woman can seek medical help to stop taking opioids in her first trimester, she greatly increases her chances of having a healthy baby. Mothers also choose to go on Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), where they may receive regular doses of methadone or suboxone. If you’re wondering if they’ll take your baby away from you for heroin use, the answer is that it’s possible and the chances are high.
Methamphetamine (meth), dextromethamphetamine, Adderall, or other stimulants are direct causes of miscarriage and preterm birth. The newborns exposed to these drugs during pregnancy often exhibit symptoms of withdrawal, jitteriness, trouble feeding, and trouble sleeping. Later on in life, these babies can also suffer from tremors and muscle tone complications. These babies are also at higher risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Meth use while pregnant is very concerning and scary because meth is so difficult to stop using. Mothers concerned if their baby will be taken away for meth use need to seek help immediately!
Cocaine use during pregnancy can lead to possible miscarriage, preterm birth, premature detachment of the placenta, high blood pressure, and stillbirth. These newborn babies exposed to cocaine are also likely to be born at a low birth weight—the risk for SIDS also increases substantially. Effects of cocaine on the baby may include slow growth, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and learning (developmental) problems.
Marijuana use, while legal in many states, has been linked to cognitive development issues as the child grows.
Pregnancy Drug Use Laws by State
Many women have been accused of child abuse, among other crimes, due to their newborn being tested positive for controlled substances. Laws on drug testing mothers and their newborns vary from state to state; however, the risk of testing positive for illicit drugs makes using extremely high risk. In some places, mothers may lose their baby or be subject to arrest.
The states that consider drug use during a pregnancy a crime are:
- South Carolina
Some states say that substance abuse during pregnancy counts as child abuse. Eighteen states have laws that say drug abuse during pregnancy is child abuse, and the mother can be charged.
- South Dakota
- Alabawho use drugs andina
- Rhode Island
Tennessee is the only state with an actual statute that makes it a crime to use drugs while pregnant. In Alabama and South Carolina, the prosecution of pregnant women who use drugs and new mothers is likely. The charges can range from child endangerment to chemical endangerment.
Since 1973, there have been attempts to charge women for drug use during pregnancy in at least 45 states. Exposing an unborn child to illicit drugs is not looked upon favorably, ever.
As we discussed above, charges against mothers even in states where high courts had rejected the prosecution approach.
The states where women have not been charged for drug use while pregnant are:
- Rhode Island
States with Involuntary Committment and Detainment
Some states consider drug use during pregnancy grounds for civil commitment. Women who use drugs while pregnant can be committed to a drug and alcohol treatment program involuntarily. Authorities can send women into a rehab treatment center without their consent. Those states are;
Wisconsin, however, has a very intense law regarding drug use while pregnant. In Wisconsin, they can not only force the mother into a treatment center against her wishes, but they also have the legal right to detain the pregnant mother up until she gives birth. The state also provides the unborn child a lawyer whose duties are to advocate for the child. If recovery progress isn’t made on the mother’s end, the mother can lose custody quickly after birth.
States with Mandatory Reporting
Fifteen states require mandatory reporting by doctors and healthcare workers when they suspect a pregnant woman is addicted to illicit drugs and use during pregnancy.
Those states are;
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
In these states, medical professionals are not required to have proof of these allegations. However, they are allowed to do testing to prove that suspicion if they wish.
The states that are required to do a drug test if the healthcare worker is suspicious are the following;
- North Dakota
If You’re Pregnant and Using, This is What you Need to do
Here is an action plan to get help if you’re pregnant and addicted.
- DO NOT put off getting help for your drug use. Commit to getting help for the wellbeing of yourself and your baby.
- Seek treatment, whether detox, medication-assisted treatment, inpatient rehab, or outpatient rehab programs that can accept pregnant women. If you’re ready to talk about your situation, call us at 1(888)906-0952 and let us help connect you with help.
- If CPS, DSS, or DES is involved, you must fully cooperate. These agencies can help you with treatment, financial assistance, and other resources for yourself and your parent in many cases.
- Work a full program of recovery and look ahead to brighter days with you and your child.
About the Author
Susana Khai (Spiegel)
Susana has over 5 years of experience writing content about addiction, mental health, recovery, and treatment. She’s been in recovery for over 5 years, after battling addictions that sought to claim her life. Susana specializes in Organic SEO and Content Marketing and utilizes her experiences to create impactful, insightful, and educational content. Connect with her on Linked-in.
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Article Reference Links
- Arizona Guidelines for Detecting Fetal Drug Exposure: https://dcs.az.gov/sites/default/files/media/sen_guidelines.pdf
- National Survey of Laws: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1580248/
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Making the Right Decision for You and Your Baby
It is hard to describe the intense worry and anxiety that comes with being pregnant while addicted to illicit drugs. Most mothers do not want to cause harm to their baby but are literally at a point where they are so addicted, they have no choice but to use it. If that’s you, we hope that you make the right decision for your baby and reach out to get help. We can help connect you with drug and alcohol treatment programs that provide all types of services (detox, medication-assisted treatment, inpatient rehab, and outpatient rehab). If you call our number, we will do our best to help you. Call now 1(888)906-0952, 24/7 365 days a year.
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