While meth has serious side effects for those who use it, even on an infrequent basis, it also can cause major health complications for children whose mothers used meth during their pregnancies. Meth can cause a wide range of abnormalities and medical conditions in babies, and it can have a severe impact on their physical, mental, and emotional development. Even worse, a woman who only uses meth once during pregnancy still puts her child at risk for these complications; it is not necessary that the meth usage be continual or repeated for these complications to occur.
During pregnancy, a fetus develops with the benefit of blood flow into the placenta, which is full of nutrients which foster growth. Studies have shown that meth usage during pregnancy restricts this blood flow, which, in turn, restricts the rate of fetal growth. As a result, babies who are born to mothers who used meth during pregnancy are much more likely to be underweight. This occurrence is compounded by the tendency of a meth-using mother to fail to obtain prenatal care during pregnancy. For these reasons, it is not unusual for a baby born to a mother who has used meth during pregnancy to be quite underweight and/or born prematurely. Additionally, meth usage by a mother during labor and/or delivery can cause stroke or brain hemorrhage to the baby.
Other Physical Complications
Meth usage during pregnancy can cause a number of physical problems for a newborn baby, including a potential for Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome; both of these disorders carry increased risks of heart attack and high blood pressure. The baby is also susceptible to skeletal abnormalities, and retarded development of the heart, kidneys, intestines, brain, and spinal cord.
Furthermore, a lack of fetal development due to the mother's meth usage also leads to a lack of development in the newborn baby. The baby may have difficulty learning basic skills such as sucking, swallowing, sleeping, and breathing, all of which are necessary survival functions for a newborn. The baby also may be sensitive to light and/or touch, and experience tremors and/or coordination difficulties.
Problems Later in Life
Unlike crack babies, who tend to suffer from irritability and shakiness from the moment of birth, babies who have been exposed to meth may exhibit three to four weeks of limpness and sleepiness before becoming irritable, wakeful, and shaky. Unfortunately, some studies show that these behaviors, i.e. inconsolable crankiness, tremors, and insomnia, that stems from a mother's meth usage can continue in a child at least until the age of five. Furthermore, children who have been exposed to meth may be at a greater risk of developing behavioral problems and learning disabilities as they age, such as hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorder.
Due to the relatively recent development of meth and its surge in usage, we are only now beginning to understand the long-term effects of meth usage during pregnancy. As is the case with most illegal drug use during pregnancy, many of the problems that children will experience as a result of meth exposure are likely to be quite serious, and can be fatal.