Babies Born Addicted to Drugs

Susie McGee
newborn baby with cap

Caring for drug addicted babies can often be frustrating. Once you understand some of what these babies are experiencing, however, you'll be better equipped to meet their needs.

Effects of Drug Abuse

It's no secret that pregnant women risk harm to their unborn fetus when they abuse drugs. How much harm depends on the type of drug, the severity of the drug abuse, and the period of the fetus's development during gestation. While there are of course some prescription drugs that a woman may have to take during a pregnancy, even certain prescription drugs can be dangerous to a developing infant. Alcohol can be just as devastating, if not more so, with infants often suffering fetal alcohol syndrome.

The illegal drugs of today include cocaine, crack, and meth, with cocaine being one of the most common. Babies exposed to these and other drugs often spend longer amounts of time in the hospital immediately after birth, and many experience lifelong health problems.


Drug addicted babies can exhibit a variety of symptoms. Because of this, many adoptive and foster families hesitate to take on the care of a drug addicted baby. Sadly, this means that many babies are sent to orphanages or left for extended periods of time in hospitals. While of course their basic needs are taken care of, that special one-on-one bonding that a child should receive from a parent is often lacking. Not only do these children have to endure physical problems that may be associated with their birth mothers' drug abuse, but they may also be slow to develop socially and emotionally.

Babies who have lived the first several months with a parent who is a drug abuser may be even more difficult to bond with once they are adopted or sent to foster care. Toddlers who have lived in this environment have often been left for long periods on their own, virtually taking care of themselves any way they could. These children may have trust issues, and they shun any physical contact as well. Other symptoms of drug addicted babies include the following:

  • Low birth weight
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Hyperactive
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Easily startled
  • Easily woken
  • Irritable
  • Poor feeding habits
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Excessive sudden movements
  • Urinary tract defects
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Delayed social skills
  • Behavior problems

Caring for a Drug Addicted Baby

Babies who are drug addicted may have difficulty bonding with a foster or adoptive parent initially. In many cases, these parents don't know how to respond to a baby's rejection or irritability. They perceive an infant who won't make eye contact or who seems to become more distressed when held as one who needs more alone time, but this can often exasperate the situation.

Patience is the key to taking care of these children. Once parents realize that these behaviors are essentially normal for children who have been exposed to drugs during pregnancy, they can begin to overlook their babies' reactions and continue to provide lots of love and affection. Slowly and surely, a baby will become more acclimated to this loving treatment. How should you care for a baby who has been exposed to drugs?

  • Try to remain calm. Even though your baby may have numerous melt-downs throughout the day, react in a calm, soothing manner. If you have to have your own melt-down occasionally, do it behind closed doors away from the baby.
  • Try to head off trouble. You'll soon learn the signs that your infant is about to lose it. Common signs to watch for may be agitated movements, eye aversion, and skin color changes. Begin to soothe your baby before things get out of hand.
  • Try swaddling. This works for healthy infants, and it can do wonders for a baby suffering the effects of withdrawal.
  • Try rocking. If one type of movement doesn't work, such as side to side, try another movement, like up and down.
  • Don't over-stimulate. Watch for signs that your infant is becoming over-stimulated, and calm him or her down quietly.
  • Try infant massage. This is great to do when you want to settle your baby down, or you simply want to spend more time bonding with her.

Finally, talk to other parents who are dealing with these same issues, attend support group meetings, and keep in close contact with your pediatrician.

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Babies Born Addicted to Drugs