How Meth Use During Pregnancy Affects Neonatal Outcomes

Methamphetamine addiction is on the rise again in many areas. Meth use by pregnant women resulted in a number of adverse neonatal outcomes, according to results from a systemic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. The review indicated meth use during pregnancy results in a measurable decrease in the following:

  • Infant birth weight
  • Head circumference
  • Body length
  • Gestational age at birth

The review also found that expectant mothers exposed to methamphetamine didn’t experience “excessive pregnancy complications” due to their illicit drug use.

Withdrawal Effects of Meth Use During Pregnancy

Along with the smaller birth weight, length, and preterm labor, meth use during pregnancy may lead to meth withdrawal symptoms in infants at birth. Meth is addictive and can actually create addiction in the developing fetus. When the baby is born, they will no longer have the supply of meth provided by their mother’s use. 

Meth withdrawal is not typically dangerous, but it will lead to some very uncomfortable and distressing first few days in the world. This may impact the ability to feed, and other important milestones. 

Lasting Effects of Meth Use During Pregnancy

The effects of meth use during pregnancy extend beyond the impact present at birth. “A large NIDA-funded prospective, longitudinal study examined developmental outcomes in infants and children born to mothers who misused methamphetamine.” [2]

During infancy, researchers found infants more likely to show decreased arousal, increased stress, and poor movement quality.

During toddlerhood (ages 1-2), researchers found children showed delayed motor development. Other recent studies found children prenatally exposed to meth to have a modest decrease in height during the first 3 years of life.[3]

By preschool and school-age, researchers found children to have subtle but significant attention impairments. They were also more likely to have cognitive and behavioral issues in school. These issues included difficulties with self-control and executive function.

Pregnant Women “Vulnerable Population” for Meth Use

Dr. Dimitrios-Rafail Kalaitzopoulos, from the Reproductive Endocrinology Unit, First Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, wrote that pregnant women are one of the “vulnerable populations” that use methamphetamine. Dr. Kalaitzopoulos stated[1] that there are limits on data about the effects of methamphetamine use during pregnancy since existing studies have involved only small samples and have not accounted for the participants using other drugs as well as methamphetamine.

The investigators examined several types of materials while conducting their review, including an orderly review of clinical literature and a deep dive analysis of case-control studies. They included studies that compared women who were exposed to methamphetamine during their pregnancy with a control group who didn’t use meth.

Multiple Studies Examined by Researchers

Eight studies involving a total of 626 participants who used methamphetamine during pregnancy and 2,626 women who didn’t use the drug during pregnancy (the control group) were examined and analyzed. The results showed no difference (statistically) between women who used meth during pregnancy and the control group on preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) rates.

Dr. Kalaitzopoulos pointed out there was a limitation to this type of meta-analysis due to the methods used to identify pregnant women who used meth. The ones who were recruited into the methamphetamine users group were placed there through a combination of self-reporting and toxicological reports. These reports included maternal urine tests, meconium tests performed on the infant’s first bowel movement, or neonatal urine toxicology. In some instances, they relied solely on self-reporting. In other instances, they relied solely on or taking a urine sample from the infant.

None of these methods are ideal. To determine the extent of maternal drug use, all these methods should be used together, according to Dr. Kalaitzopoulos.

Get Help for Meth Addiction, Prevent Effects of Meth Use During Pregnancy

If possible, it’s best to get off meth prior to pregnancy. This is the best way to prevent the effects of meth use during pregnancy on your child. Desert Cove Recovery can help. Our addiction treatment program in Arizona helps to give you the tools necessary for lasting recovery. Contact our admissions team today for help or to get answers to your questions about meth addiction treatment.