Resources for parents to get through the challenges.

  1. Home
  2. Health

How To Clean Out Your Unborn Baby’s System and Placenta of Drugs

Discovering a pregnancy can have a profound effect on many women. It often pushes them to make changes to their lifestyle, friends, and general health to be the best version of themselves for their babies.

One huge change that being pregnant brings to the forefront for some women is their use of drugs and other chemicals. Did you know that women are most likely to become addicted to or abuse a substance between the ages of 18 and 29?

This also happens to be the time when they’re most likely to get pregnant. With this in mind, we’re going to look at the effects of substance abuse and drugs on a baby and how to detox their system.

This can mean that they run the risk of their babies being born with a history of exposure to illegal drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. This can have detrimental effects on their babies from increasing the risk of miscarriage and early delivery and birth defects.

How Do Certain Substances Affect Pregnant Women?

Using drugs while pregnant can have devastating effects on both mother and baby. Here are some of the most common drugs that are used and their side effects:


This can have some especially harmful side effects for both mom and baby if used during pregnancy. These include:

  • Placental abruption
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birthweight
  • A baby that is small for their gestational age
  • Language and cognitive development problems have been shown in some studies.


It has been found that the side effects of using this drug while pregnant are very similar to those using cocaine. These include:

  • Low birthweight
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Higher risks of birth defects and developmental delays
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure for the mother
  • Higher risk of pre-eclampsia


Abusing these kinds of painkillers can lead to a condition that doctors call ‘neonatal abstinence syndrome’ or ‘NAS.’ This is where a baby would need to undergo withdrawals from the drugs once they are born.


These withdrawal symptoms can be extremely difficult to witness and can include:

  • Problems feeding
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Breathing problems
  • Seizures
  • Severe shaking
  • Increased risk of SIDS
  • Greater risk of growth problems and behavioral problems later in their lives.


Many people see this drug as not being harmful and pregnant women are no different. Many believe that using marijuana when they’re pregnant won’t have any adverse effects on their unborn baby or themselves.

However, this isn’t the case. It has been shown that marijuana and cannabis use can cause side effects such as:

  • Early labor
  • Increased risk of admission to the neonatal ICU
  • Increased risk of behavioral problems
  • Low birthweight
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Reduced growth in baby’s brain

The side effects worsen the more marijuana a woman uses whilst pregnant.


Using this drug while pregnant can increase the risk of your baby being born with a cleft lip and palate, especially when these drugs are taken in the first trimester.

Some reports have also revealed that newborns may suffer from the following side effects:

  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Breathing problems
  • Sedation.

How Long Do Drugs Stay In Your System?

The length of time that drugs stay in your system depends on many factors such as:

  • The dose
  • Your tolerance
  • The potency
  • Your metabolism
  • How you took it
  • Any pre-existing medical conditions
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Ethnicity

The same is said for your unborn child. We have no ethical way to determine how long drugs stay in the baby’s system. Even if a baby is born showing signs of exposure to drugs we have no way of saying when that exposure happened.

Risks to the Unborn Baby

Exposure to drugs isn’t the only thing that can potentially pose a threat to an unborn child. Unmonitored detoxification can have serious adverse effects on them.

The fetus can react badly to the withdrawal and any medications used. Some professionals may be hesitant to go through the detoxification process with expectant mothers as the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal to the unborn child.

pregnant woman

There are treatment programs that can be specifically tailored to the individual needs of each patient. This is to ensure that the treatment is not only effective but safe for both mother and child.

For example, some programs may replace your substance with a less harmful one. For those mothers to be who take part in opioid replacement therapy, the opioids are replaced with buprenorphine or methadone.

Detox For Pregnant Women

The journey of getting sober can be a difficult but rewarding one. But it’s imperative that you take this journey for the health and well-being of not only yourself but your unborn child.

You also need to consider the risk of relapsing as this can have a devastating effect on both the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman.

But this is also a journey that you must only undertake under the care and supervision of professionals. Both you and your unborn child need to be closely monitored to ensure the health and well-being of both of you.

This is not something that you can do alone!

Types of Detox Programs

Treatment programs use different approaches to helping pregnant women detox. They may use things like ‘talk therapies’ which help women understand how they can control their thoughts and actions.

This strives to make it less likely that they will relapse and start using it again. Here are some of the approaches used for detoxing while pregnant:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT

This helps women discover and identify how their old ways of thinking and doing were helping to keep her addicted. Once these behaviors can be identified, the woman can decide on new behaviors which can then reduce her risks for relapse.

pregnant woman in therapy

Contingency Management

This works by offering rewards for good behaviors, such as a clean drug test, or participation in a support group.

According to an article in F1000 Research, this type of management is one of the most successful approaches, especially for pregnant women who are using cocaine and marijuana.

Motivational Interviewing

This involves finding what motivates change in a pregnant woman through talking with them. 

Finding Treatment

When you’ve made the decision to find treatment and become sober while you are pregnant, you need to find a treatment program that is aware and familiar with the unique needs of a pregnant woman.

There are now risks to two people, not just one and this makes the stakes much higher. There are many drug treatment centers available all over the United States.

It’s usually better to seek a program that specializes in treating pregnant women who are suffering from addiction whether this is cocaine, marijuana, or something else.

Seek Medical Supervision to Detox

Many pregnant women who have a substance abuse problem don’t seek medical help or professional care due to a fear of being judged or punished.

However, courts and public justice systems are far more likely to look favorably on a mother that seeks help for her addiction rather than one who continues to struggle with her addiction and as a result, goes on to harm her baby.

pregnant woman and doctor

The Final Thought

Becoming a mother is difficult under normal circumstances. When you have the increased struggle of substance abuse, it can make it ten times harder.

As you can see from the information above, there’s no clear one program that fits every drug or even every addict. There’s no hard and fast evidence of how long substances stay in your system and how long they can affect your unborn child. 

The best advice we can offer is that it’s never too late to seek help, and do not be afraid to do so. With help, time, and treatment, a healthy baby can be delivered and both your lives can move forward free from substance abuse.

Medical Disclaimer. All content and media on the MomInformed Website are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.


Substance use during pregnancy – National Center for Biotechnology Information

Guidelines for the identification and management of substance use and substance use disorders in pregnancy

Naloxone – MotherToBaby

Pregnant women and substance use: fear, stigma, and barriers to care – National Center for Biotechnology Information