Using drugs during pregnancy is dangerous for both the mother and the baby.

Unfortunately, many mothers who are addicted to drugs do not stop using them during their pregnancies. Many try to quit for the duration of their pregnancies but find they cannot.

When mothers cannot stop using drugs while they’re pregnant, their babies suffer in many ways.

But can babies be born addicted to the drugs that their mothers are or were using?

Here’s all the information you need to know about babies born to drug-addicted mothers.

Can Babies Be Born Addicted to Drugs? - Pathfinders Recovery Center - A pregnant woman lies in bed with a glass of water in one hand and a pile of pills in her other hand as she struggles with knowing: "Can babies be born addicted to drugs?"

Can Babies Actually Be Born Addicted to Drugs?

Addicted isn’t the right word for what happens to babies who are born to drug-addicted mothers.

Saying these babies are “born addicted” implies that they are born with the disease of addiction.

That implies that they will become addicts later in life. While addiction does have a genetic component, not all babies born to addicts will suffer from addiction themselves. So, babies of drug-addicted mothers aren’t really born addicted.

But many are born dependent on the same drugs that their mothers were using during pregnancy. Because the drug was delivered into the baby’s system via the umbilical cord, the baby becomes dependent on the drug while in the womb.

When they are born, they are still dependent on the drug. But it’s no longer being delivered into their system. Because of this, these babies usually experience symptoms of drug withdrawal. This withdrawal is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

What Happens When a Baby Has NAS?

When a baby has NAS, they experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are much like the symptoms adults experience when they go through withdrawals.

The extremity of the withdrawal symptoms varies from baby to baby. Some babies are just extremely fussy since the lack of the drug in their system is an uncomfortable shock. Others will experience extreme symptoms like seizures, and some even die. Other symptoms of NAS include diarrhea, fevers, tremors, vomiting, trouble feeding, and trouble breathing.

When a baby experiences Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, they need an extended hospital stay to recover. The majority of babies born drug-dependent are admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as soon as they’re born. In the NICU they receive treatments to ease their discomfort and address their NAS.

How is NAS Treated?

The treatment for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome depends on the extent of the baby’s withdrawal symptoms.

Some babies whose symptoms are relatively minor need very little medical treatment. These babies often just need to be made more comfortable. Swaddling, rocking, skin-to-skin contact, and limiting exposure to light and noise often help to calm babies who are fussy and uncomfortable from their withdrawal symptoms.

Babies with more serious symptoms like trouble breathing may be given medical interventions like breathing tubes. Babies who have seizures may be given pharmaceuticals to wean them off the drugs they were dependent on.

Pharmaceutical intervention is avoided whenever possible because it exposes the baby to more drugs. But when the withdrawal poses a serious risk to the baby, weaning them off with pharmaceuticals may be the only option.

Babies that are born drug-dependent often need to stay in the hospital for a long time. This can negatively impact their ability to bond with caregivers. It’s essential for babies born drug-addicted to get lots of attention and be held as much as possible so that they can start to bond. Ideally, this would be done by their biological parents.

Unfortunately, many babies that are born to addicted mothers are separated from their parents at birth. Since their parents aren’t present to provide them with attention and physical touch, this falls to hospital staff and volunteers in the NICU. This can negatively impact the baby’s ability to bond with their biological or adoptive parents later in life.

What are the Long term Impacts of NAS?

There isn’t a lot of research about the long-term impacts of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

Studies have shown that children born drug-dependent are more likely than their peers to struggle academically.

It’s unclear whether being born drug-dependent explains the academic struggles of these children. Another reason could be that children who are born drug-dependent are likely going home to an environment dominated by addiction.

Children born to drug-addicted mothers are also more likely to deal with behavioral issues, developmental issues, and poor nutrition as they get older. But again, this may not be linked to the fact that they were born drug-dependent. These struggles could have much more to do with being raised by addicted parents.

Regardless of whether these struggles later in life are caused by being drug-dependent or not, it’s clear that babies who are born drug-dependent are more likely to face a difficult life.

How Common is it for Babies to be Born Drug-Dependent?

Unfortunately, the number of babies suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome has skyrocketed in the past 15 years. From 2004 to 2014 the number of babies experiencing NAS increased fivefold.

In 2014, about 32,000 babies were born drug-dependent and experienced withdrawal symptoms after birth. To put this number in perspective, that means that every 15 minutes a baby is born dependent on some kind of drug.

This increase makes tragic sense in light of the opioid epidemic that has ensnared the nation.

The number of pregnant women who entered treatment for opioid abuse increased from 2% to 28% between 1992 and 2012. And that’s just the number of women seeking treatment.

One of the main reasons for this massive increase in opioid abuse is the availability of prescription opioids. Many women begin taking the pills for a medical issue, become addicted, and find that they can’t stop even after getting pregnant.

Can Babies Be Born Addicted to Drugs? - Pathfinders Recovery Center - A young, pregnant woman is sitting with a counselor who specializes in addiction treatment for pregnant women and is asking questions, such as: "Can babies be born addicted to drugs?"

How Can NAS be Prevented?

Luckily, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome can be prevented. If women who are addicted to drugs seek treatment as soon as they find out they are pregnant and remain sober for the duration of their pregnancy, then their babies will not be born drug-dependent.

The problem is women must seek treatment early in their pregnancies. And they need to stay sober for the duration of their pregnancy. Many women who desperately want to stay sober while pregnant find that they can’t stay sober on their own. If they don’t have a good support system or access to treatment, they may not be able to stay sober for the duration of their pregnancy.

Many women also do not receive the treatment they need because they’re scared, to be honest with their doctors. They fear that if they admit to using drugs while pregnant they’ll lose custody of their children. Because of this, they don’t talk to their doctors about getting treatment.

Many women who struggle with drug addiction also don’t have access to reliable prenatal care due to a lack of money or insurance. In these cases, women don’t have access to medical guidance about how their addictions impact their babies.

Pregnant women who struggle with addiction need to feel safe seeking treatment. And they need to be able to access the medical treatment needed by them and their babies. This is the best way to prevent Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

What Resources Are Available to Mothers Struggling with Addiction?

Pregnant women who want to get sober and stay sober throughout their pregnancy need to seek treatment for their addiction.

For many women, this involves going to a residential rehab center or rehabilitation center. At the treatment center, they can be medically detoxed in a way that is safe for them and their babies.

They also undergo a treatment program that teaches them healthy coping mechanisms that help them stay sober long term.

For many drug-addicted pregnant women, treatment centers are the only way that they can get and stay sober during their pregnancies.

Some pregnant women struggling with addiction who don’t want to check into a treatment center choose to go to 12-step meetings. Many find this an effective treatment for their addiction. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

Getting Sober While Pregnant

When a woman struggling with addiction finds out that she is pregnant, it’s often a terrifying experience. They worry about the health of their babies. They worry about their babies being born addicted. They worry about being able to take care of their babies once they’re born.

Often these women know that the best thing for them to do is get sober. But doing so is very difficult for a plethora of reasons. Getting into some kind of treatment program increases their chances of staying sober. This reduces the chances of their drug addiction harming their babies.

For more information about getting into a treatment program, fill out the contact form on our website or give us a call today.


  • 7580 E Gray Rd Suite 201 Scottsdale, AZ 85260
  • (877) 224-0761
  • Mon-Sun: 24x7
  • Mon-Fri: 8:00AM – 4:00PM

Our Newsletter

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Contact Us

See how much of your treatment is covered by insurance

(877) 224-0761


Skip to content